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We just got back from a short vacation, three days. Originally, we had planned on taking a longer vacation, an Oceans and Dead People Tour Part II. (See my Oceans and Dead People Tour blog from a year ago to know what that was all about.) We were going to go down to Maryland and Washington D.C., stopping at Gettysburg on the way back, but due to several reasons, we decided on something shorter: Niagara Falls and Cooperstown, New York.

Niagara Falls has changed a bit from when I was there as a kid. It’s way more built up with touristy stuff: casinos, Hard Rock Cafe, Rain Forest Cafe, the Hershey Store, which I sadly did not go to because we ran out of time. To be fair, I really only remember the museum where I saw the mummy (see last post) so I didn’t have a lot to compare it to, but I remember it being a lot less busy.

What was amazing to me, though, was the diversity of people who were there. I can’t count how many different languages I heard: Chinese, Italian, French, Spanish, Arabic, just to name a few. Everyone was happy, taking pictures, having picnics, blowing bubbles, taking pictures, and having a wonderful time. I know it’s a tourist destination, but I couldn’t help wishing it could be like this all over the world, all the time. One can hope.

Niagara was amazing. I didn’t appreciate it as a kid, but just look at the power of the Falls:

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The edge of the Horseshoe Falls

I can’t post a video because I don’t have a premium plan on WordPress, but watching those millions of gallons constantly flowing over and down just grounded me for a while. I could quite literally sit there and watch it all day if there weren’t so many other people around. I felt at peace.

Taking the Maid of the Mist ride the next day was really cool. The boat goes almost right to the bottom of the falls and everyone gets wet, which feels great on a warm day. Cool little droplets of water sprayed and attached themselves to everything, so I tucked my phone away in the provided poncho when we got really close. The poncho is to keep your clothes dry and you can either keep or recycle it after the ride. We chose to keep ours as souvenirs.

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Taken from the rock trail along the American Falls

Leaving Niagara, we made our way via the New York Thruway, I-90, which is a toll road. Some people aren’t fans of toll roads, but I am. They’re usually in better shape than the regular interstates and I LOVE the service plazas. For those that don’t know, service plazas have large restrooms, a couple of fast food restaurants for food choices, perhaps a gift shop, and a gas station all in the same place, no getting off on a regular exit and driving between food and gas stations, hoping for a semi-decent restroom and negotiating traffic to get back on the freeway. Service plazas put it all in one spot and for someone like me who appreciate convenience, they’re a gem on a long road trip. Oh! And they have massage chairs. Three minutes of heaven for $1.00. Sidenote: I-90 is parallel to the Erie Canal Heritage Corridor, which is a lot longer than I thought. I grew up singing, “I’ve got a mule, her name is Sal. Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal”, and for some reason, I never thought it was as long as it is, which is 362.9 miles. Now you’ve learned something new.

We made our way to Cooperstown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, nestled in the beautiful rolling mountains of the Adirondacks and the Catskills. I can’t tell you much about the Hall of Fame, except that I thought it would be bigger. I almost drove right past it while dropping Marty and Youngest Child at the entrance. They told me all about it later. They saw plaques, baseball cards, and other stuff, like uniforms. That’s all I’ve got.

As for me, I found a delightful lake, Otsego Lake, to be exact. I had dropped off my family and turned down a side street only to drive right up to a staircase that led to the lake. It was surrounded by small mountains and was crystal clear. After a man and his dog moved on, I was the only one there and it was so calming, so lovely. I took off my sandals and waded in. It was rocky and surprisingly warm, but it centered me for a few minutes before I moved on. Here ’tis:

After my wow moment at Lake Otswago, I made my way to the Farmer’s Museum, also in Cooperstown. It’s like a small Greenfield Village, except that all of the buildings are all from New York. The highlight of my trip was seeing the little Jersey calf, Parsnip, who was born in March. Cows aren’t my favorite barnyard animal, but those big brown eyes were gorgeous. The Farmer’s Museum also has the famous Cardiff Giant, a famous hoax perpetrated in 1869. Here’s a link to the story if you’re interested: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/cardiff-giant-was-just-big-hoax-180965274/

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Parsnip

It was also at the Farmer’s Museum that I had a spooky happening. I was in the doctor’s office alone (I had sprinted to get ahead of the senior bus tour). There were only two rooms and no second floor. The first room felt kind of charged, like someone was there and when I walked into the second room, I heard three very loud distinct steps on the wooden floor behind me in the first room. I turned quickly, in case one of those seniors was faster than I thought, but there was no one there. Hmmmm… Here’s the spooky doctor’s office:

We began driving back the next day, stopping in Dunkirk, NY on the shore of Lake Erie for the night. It was the same motel we stopped at last year on the way home from Salem and we liked being right on the water for a reasonable price. It’s not a great part of town, but the hotel area feels safe. Plus, the sunsets there are gorgeous.

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Lake Erie, Dunkirk, NY

Yesterday, we came home, processing all of the new things we saw and the adventures we had. We settled in, unpacked, took the dirty clothes downstairs, and relaxed. Life was back to normal. (Well, almost. Our house is rebelling against us, but more on that in another post. Let’s just say it’s hot in here.)

Travel is good for the soul, even the short trips. Next year, though, I want the ocean again.

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We’re heading out on vacation next week, nowhere particularly fancy this year, just to Niagara Falls for a day and then to Cooperstown, NY so Marty and the Youngest Child can see the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (I’ll be going to the Farming Museum, also in Cooperstown, because while I support the Detroit Tigers and can tell you a lot about baseball, the thought of spending hours around baseball memorabilia makes me fall into an instant coma.) We don’t have a name for our vacation this summer, unlike last year’s Oceans and Dead People Tour, but there are plans for Oceans and Dead People Tour II, possibly next summer. We shall see.

I did, however, insist on being around big water, so Lakes Ontario and Erie will do nicely. I’ve only been to Niagara Falls once before when I was around nine or ten years old and Youngest Child has never been so it will be cool to experience it again. Plus, I’m getting a massage at the spa, so all is well.

I don’t remember much about my first venture to Niagara Falls, but there’s one thing I do remember: The Mummy. No, not the movie. I would have italicized the title if I were talking about a movie. English teacher here. I’m talking about a genuine dried up person that had been alive a few thousand years ago but was, for some reason, on display in a little museum in Niagara Falls. It was amazing.

There are a lot of overpriced touristy-things at Niagara Falls, so we didn’t do a lot of them, but we did go into this little museum. I could not tell you 99.5% of what was in the museum, but I will never forget that it was where I saw my first mummy. It was in this glass case, kind of up high (at least to a ten-year-old) and I was amazed. Not amazed in a grossed-out way, but amazed in a this-is-so-cool-it-used-to-be-a-person!!!!! kind of way. The mummy was touted as an Egyptian pharaoh and had been brought to Canada from Egypt through a collector. We didn’t believe for a minute that this mummy had been a pharaoh, but it was still pretty awesome to see. Unfortunately, it was very common and fashionable in the 19th century for Europeans and North Americans to buy “souvenirs” that had actually been looted from Egyptian tombs, including actual mummies. (Sidenote: Egypt would LOVE all of its artifacts back, by the way.) That’s how this mummy had crossed the Atlantic and ended up in a tourist trap museum in Niagara Falls, Canada.

To make a long story short, years and years later, in 2002 to be exact, a news story came out that this mummy actually was an Egyptian pharaoh! Hearing the rumors about the Niagara Falls mummy, Egyptian archaeologists had tested its DNA and found that it was most likely Ramses I, founder of the Ramses dynasty of pharaohs. You can read the BBC story here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3215747.stm

Since then, I’ve seen many more mummies. There’s one at the Detroit Institute of Arts, there are some incredible natural mummies under St. Michan’s church in Dublin, Ireland, one of which I got to touch, and there are dozens of mummies in the British museum. (Sidenote #2: The St. Michan’s mummies recently made the news because some arsehole broke in and stole a head from one of the mummies. I hope he’s being severely haunted right now. Like Poltergeist-style haunting. Jerk.) Here’s a link to see the Irish mummies: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/st-michans-church

There was also a TV show in the early 2000s called The Mummy Road Show, hosted by two professors. It was on when Youngest Child was a tiny baby, so I watched a lot of that. They also visited the Irish mummies (That sounds like a great band name, doesn’t it?). You can find details on that here: https://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/mummy-road-show/episodes/390281/

I know that many people, my family included, think that my obsession with mummies is a little odd, but I’m okay with that. I’ve always been fascinated with things that a lot of people find odd or disturbing. My mom used to say I was morbid, but to me, mummies are a tangible part of our long distant past. When we study ancient history, we are often limited to just reading about it, but through mummies and artifacts from civilizations past, we can actually see it, touch it. We like to separate ourselves from them, but these are people who lived, breathed, laughed, and loved, just like we do today. They had families, jobs, insecurities, worries, and joys. Somebody loved that face once. They were us, just 5,000 years ago. Mummies make me feel connected, somehow.

I didn’t know how that little visit would awaken such an interest in me, but I’m really glad it did. I’ve seen a lot, read a lot, and my life is richer for it. It’s also fun to say that my first mummy was a pharaoh.

I don’t know if that little museum in Niagara Falls still exists, but if it does, I may just go have a poke around inside. You never know what you’ll find.

If you have any “odd” interests, feel free to post them in the comments. I’m interested to read about them!

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“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.” E.B. White. Charlotte’s Web

It’s the end of another summer. Yes, I know that summer doesn’t technically end until September 22, but for me, as a teacher, summer is effectively over. And before anyone says anything about teachers having the whole summer off, blah, blah, blah, let me remind you that we’re working our tails off for ten months out of the year including our “own time”  during evenings, weekends, and holidays, PLUS we attend meetings , college classes, and professional development during the summer, so bugger off about that particular point. There, enough said about it.

I’m not a huge summer fan in terms of weather. I hate hot and humid and I’m an autumn girl through and through, but I enjoy the recovery time from my job.

This summer was incredibly busy, despite being the first summer that I haven’t worked a second job in several years. I think I tried to cram in everything that I’m not able to do during the school year and wore myself out in the process. Here is a sampling of Summer 2018.

  • I was able to let my natural body clock have its way again. I’m naturally a night owl and it felt SO GOOD to just sleep and wake up naturally. If only school started at 10:00.
  • I painted the living room. It really needed it, having been more than ten years since I had painted it last. While I love the finished product, I forgot how draining painting a room can be. At least I don’t have to do it for another ten years and I bought new curtains to boot.
  • Marty and I attended a lot of funeral home visitations and funerals summer, some expected, some not. Either way, it’s a reminder that we only get one shot at this life and I intend to fit in everything I can while I can. That also means staying active and being healthy in both mind and body so that I can do all of the things I want to do before it’s my turn. We said goodbye to some very special people this year. It makes you appreciate loved ones, and your time, all the more. We’re not promised tomorrow.
  • I did some spiritual insight seeking, learning to meditate and to spend time looking within, to be spiritually in tune with myself and with God. I believe we are given spiritual gifts, we just don’t use them like we should. I’d like to get better at that.
  • We went on vacation. See the July post for details about the “Ocean and Dead People Tour”, which was awesome. Anytime I’m near the ocean, I’m happy.
  • Speaking of our vacation, we did a lot more family history research. We’re kind of obsessed, although Marty would argue that I may have an addiction to Ancestry-crack.
  • I published my book, Traveler, as a paperback through Amazon.com and donated a copy to my local library. It was kind of a big deal for me. Check it out.
  • I read books that were not related to school or schoolwork. Heavenly.
  • I wrote. Not as much as I would have liked, but I did write.
  • I took Youngest Child to rehearsals and did hair for his show. High school kids are awesome, and I sincerely mean that.
  • I auditioned for a show and then I went to rehearsals.
  • I made two new adorable kitty friends. They live across the street and come to visit us pretty much every night for pets and treats. I love them.
  • We spent family time together, precious these days. The boys are starting to go off in their own directions and the time when they will only come home to visit is approaching quickly. I treasure our family dinners, the boys’ impromtu baseball and football games in front of the house, the flying Nerf darts, even the insults. I hope their memories of these days will be happy, too.
  • Marty and I went on lots of dates, including finally going to the Detroit Riverwalk for the first time. This is a good married-person thing to do. Often. I highly recommend it.
  • We started watching The Crown. I’m addicted. And Prince Philip is a jerky-jerk.
  • I rode my bike, Lulu, a lot. We didn’t get the theatre bike group going again, I was too busy to commit to a night this summer, but whenever I had to go to the library or somewhere within 3ish miles, I walked or rode Lulu. Good times.
  • Last, but not least, we took Oldest Child back to school today for his last year of college. Middle Child goes back next weekend. The days of us all together are finished until Thanksgiving. (I’m going to make them take a Christmas card picture while they’re home. Shhhhhhh…)

The crickets are singing, the bats are clicking.

Goodbye, Summer, goodbye. See you next June.

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We don’t take family vacations very often, cost is a preventative, but this year we decided to splurge a bit. Marty and I are both genealogy nerds so we decided to take a trip to visit cemeteries where some of our ancestors are buried. I also insisted on seeing the ocean again, since the ocean and I are BFFs and Youngest Child was the only one to never have seen it at all. Like all great tours, this one needed a name and so we settled upon the “Ocean and Dead People Tour 2018”. Yeah, our sense of humor is a little macabre, but we love it.

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I won’t bog you down with details, but here are some of the highlights.

  • Ohio is still boring to drive through. (Note: This is no way reflects on the people of Ohio or the good food that they grow, but 200+ miles of farms (broken up by Cleveland) tends to make one weary.
  • All food in Lancaster County is comfort food and portions are huge. Middle Child ordered meatloaf for dinner and got a slab the size of his head.
  • Intercourse, Blue Ball, Paradise,, and Virginville, Pennsylvania are all real places and all within the same area. Yes, the locals know it and, yes, they do capitalize on it.IMG_1716
  • I navigated driving through NYC!!! Of course, we did not visit Manhattan, since neither of us have people there, but we drove through Brooklyn and Yonkers where we, no kidding, got slightly lost. I had joked about that before we left, but it really did happen for a couple of minutes.IMG_1727
  • For such a small state, Connecticut seems to go on forever. It’s beautiful, though, so it’s okay.
  • Boston rush hour traffic sucks. There is no other way to say it. It’s even slightly worse than Chicago. We saw lots of rocky cliffs, though, so we had something to look at going one mile every five minutes.IMG_20180718_171210798
  • Seeing a sign for Framingham and Boston on the MassPike sent me into a dorky tizzy because, “We’ve gone from Framingham to Boston and we cannot find a pin!” (1776)
  • Salem is a busy place, but, wow! It’s really funny because there’s kitschy witch stuff everywhere, but there are also tours that are trying to emphasize the maritime history, so it’s a veritable mix of witches and pirates. I did not get a reading from any of the 50+ advertised witches.
  • I love Salem. It’s extremely walkable, busy, full of old history, and right on the ocean. I could happily live there while pining for London. IMG_1778

 

  • The Old Burying Point in Salem is quite possibly the coolest cemetery in the world.IMG_1740
  • I adore the ocean, but over the years, I’ve developed a fear of being in deep water where I can’t see the bottom. I found that I still have this fear while trying to dip my feet in the waters on the historic Salem Marina.
  • The ocean in Massachusetts is FREEZING!!!IMG_1761
  • Massachusetts accents are adorable, but not when Middle Child insists on using it the entire time we were there.
  • You can get chicken strips pretty much everywhere. Youngest Child supplied us with that knowledge.
  • Upstate New York is pretty, but a loooooooong drive from east to west.
  • I am really, really, happy near big water, including Lake Erie.

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  • We saw license plates from 41 states, the District of Columbia, and four Canadian provinces. The missing states? Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The back of a Sausage McMuffin bag is an ideal place to keep track of this.
  • When the GPS dies, I can still read a map.
  • I added 3.5 states to my “visited” list, bringing my total to 21. I had changed planes at New York’s LaGuardia last year, so that only counted as a half for New York.

All in all, there was a lot of car time, but it was a great vacation. We saw a lot, ate a lot, and saw new things. I didn’t have to cook for an entire week, which was a vacation in itself.

Travel is the best.

 

 

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I don’t know about you, but I can more fully understand an experience after I’ve had a while to process it. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of something, good or bad, and try to assess right then, but I’ve learned that better understanding comes after an experience has had time to stew for awhile. I had the incredible opportunity to visit Italy last summer, exactly a year ago, and so I’ve been going through everything that we did there as well as the photos.

A year ago yesterday, my mom and I spent our last night in Rome. We had had a long, hot, day visiting Pompeii and Naples (mind-blowing, by the way) and wanted to spend a relaxing evening before driving to Florence the next morning.

At the time, I was eager to move on to Florence, excited to see what would come next. Rome was overwhelming, but in a good way. There was just so much to see and I knew we’d never do it a bit of justice in just three days. I think to truly experience Rome, I would need to stay for a while, sit with a glass of vino at a sidewalk café day after day, wander the streets with no goal in sight, and just feel the rhythm, the pulse, of the city. Being independently wealthy would help with that.

I love big cities; I adore the energy that they hold. They have personalities all their own and Rome is no exception. Rome is just so big, in so many ways. There is some sort of order, but not the kind that’s in London, Dublin, or Sydney. The centuries of tumultuous history that have made it into what it is today are still there, everywhere you look. Scooters fly by the ruins that mark the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. Egyptian-influence mixes with Greek. Morning and evening rush hour zooms under the magnificent Roman wall still surrounding much of the city. Modern life goes on, but pays its respects to the events and buildings that have been the foundation of the Eternal City since its very beginning. It’s a crazy paradise.

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Roman Wall

 

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The Coliseum and Roman Forum

Rome was patient with us. My mother had had to fight jet lag for the first time ever, an unpleasant experience for even the most jaded traveler. We had a fabulous guide, though, Lynne, who provided us with equally wonderful local guides during our time there and that made it all the better. We learned to walk boldly into the crazy traffic to cross streets, (Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, no eye contact with the drivers, and GO!) to see Vespas that tore down sidewalks and zipped in between the throngs of tour buses and cars as the norm, and became accustomed to the constant beeping of horns.

I learned particularly quickly how to dissuade all gypsies, some aggressive, with a hand up and a firm, “No, grazie”, before walking past them and holding my bag close, hand on the zipper, nothing in my pockets. (“Gypsy” is sometimes seen to be a derogatory term, but it includes all of the scammers that hang out to pick pockets or swindle people, especially tourists. The term used to be used to describe only the Roma, but there are many different nationalities of people whose main occupation is to steal in Europe. “Gypsy” seems to cover them all in Italy.) We had successfully navigated the bus system, getting off at a stop relatively close to the Coliseum, walking the rest of the way, and then making it back to our hotel the night before. We paid the obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Café Rome to eat and get a t-shirt for Oldest Child. We saw many of the treasures of the Vatican Museum, walked through and prayed in the stunning Sistine Chapel, and began to make friends in our tour group. Our first three days had been busy, to say the least.

 

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St. Peter’s Basilica

Visiting the Vatican, its own independent country but completely within Rome, walking over the spot where St. Peter is reportedly buried (THE Peter, the fisherman, the one who walked with Jesus, who saw him risen, that one), standing in St. Peter’s Square, the place that’s on my television every Christmas Eve for midnight mass even though I’m not Catholic, yeah, those experiences still floor me. I can’t believe I was there, in the middle of all of that history. Religious or not, the volume of the priceless art alone is enough to give one shivers of glee. Throw in the religious significance and it can reduce you to a puddle of joy.

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View from the Vatican

 

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Remains of a temple in the Forum

Anyhow, on that last night, we found a nice little outdoor café/restaurant for dinner. Outdoor cafés are all over Italy, some are expensive, many are very reasonable, and I really think that’s a fabulous way to experience the country. The people-watching is spectacular. We had quite a bit of free time to do as we liked, something that I think is important on a tour. I’m learning from the Rick Steves’ philosophy of going where the locals like to go in addition to the popular tourist hangouts, a very rewarding experience.

The night was warm, but not too hot, and the waiter was very nice. I tried ordering completely in Italian (I had been getting bolder with my language skills) and laughed when the waiter repeated my order back to me in English. I teasingly shook my finger at him, chiding that I was practicing my Italian and that he wasn’t helping me. With good humor, he graciously listened to my broken Italian and spoke slowly the rest of the time so that I could understand. I found that to be the case in many places, especially in our hotel in Roma. The front desk staff all seemed to be amused by my attempts, but not in a mean way. If I was struggling with a word, they would gently say the English version and then the Italian after to help me along. I’ve always tried to be helpful with those who speak English as a second language here in the States, but that experience has taught me to be even more mindful of the language barrier.

The wine came, the food came. Everything was delicious. My mother and I talked for a long time, a luxury with our normally busy lives at home but in Italy, everyone makes time to talk, everyone takes the time to visit, especially in the evenings during the passagiata. The passagiata is the walk that people take in the cities and towns, usually around a piazza, or city square. People visit, have an aperitif before dinner, (Italians eat dinner late.) and generally relax after a day of work or play. It’s a lovely idea and a wonderful time to watch people. The entire evening was spectacular and although I was ready to leave for Florence, I felt a stab of regret that I had leave Roma so soon, just as I was getting to know her. The sensory overload that descended on me when we first drove into Roman traffic that first morning was just starting to make sense. I wanted more, I wanted to wander without a schedule, to accidentally find treasures that I hadn’t read about and I plan to go back one day and do just that. Well, with a Rick Steves guidebook and map.

Now, those who know me know that my true love is London. There are places where people know that they belong and London is it for me. but Rome and her sister cities have so much to offer that I want to keep coming back. I don’t think I could ever live there, I crave order and timeliness on a daily basis and while Roma has its own sense of order and time, it would be too overwhelming. I would need to take breaks from the energy, but I know that Rome would always leave me wanting more, never running out of marvels. It’s like a rich dessert: a little bit will satisfy, but you will keep making it because it’s so good. There will always be a reason to return.

Pieta

Pietà

This is just the beginning of my memories of Italy. I condensed Rome into just over one thousand words, no easy feat, especially when I could have filled a small book with just those three days. For such a short time there, it planted a long root in my soul that will continue to come back long after I think it to be gone. Well done, Roma, well done.

A presto.

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