Sunday, December 18, 2011

On the Road Again for the Holidays

This year instead of driving west on Route 66 to California, we’re driving east to spend Christmas with Neil and Kathy and their kids in Nova Scotia.

The kids ready to make tracks on day one. 
On our first day, we made our way through Ontario to Niagara Falls, New York, where we stayed at a hotel with a pool. When we stay in hotels that have a pool, Dad and the kids like to take advantage to get some well-needed physical activity in, especially on the long driving days. The kids love going to the pool! Each time Eliza sees the pool, she lets out a little squeal and practically jumps out of Mike’s arms to get into the water.

From Niagara Falls, we drove past the Finger Lakes, through upstate New York, and into the southeastern Adirondacks before crossing Lake Champlain into Vermont. This is the first time any of us has been to Vermont, and we chose to drive through because of the many fun small businesses we know that are located there. More on that later.

While we had decent weather Wednesday, Thursday started with rain and never let go. We were in such a hurry to get packed in the morning that between Mike packing the big bags and Hallie making sure the kids got settled in the car, we forgot our laptops at the hotel! About two hours down the road, Mike asked Hallie about the computers, and come to find out each thought the other had brought them out. Fortunately, we live in a miraculous modern age. Rather than having to schlep the two hours back to Niagara Falls only to have to retrace our steps for yet another two hours, we made a cell phone call to the hotel to verify the laptops were in our room and another to FedEx to arrange to have them shipped to the hotel we’d be staying at Friday evening. Even as recently as five or ten years ago, making the problem go away would have required quite a bit more time and effort. Of course, not so many people had the kinds of problems that laptops and smart phones (amazing little computers that they are) both cause and resolve.

Still, what could have become a road block merely became a speed bump as we continued to make our way through scenic rural New York admiring the stately old New England architecture and homes decked out in Christmas cheer. It started to get dark at around 3:30 (yikes!), what with the rain clouds and all. By the time we reached the Adirondacks, we only had headlights and Christmas lights to guide us on our way. Eventually, however, we did cross Lake Champlain and into rainy, dark Vermont. Not a great first impression, but things got better.

Once we made it to Middlebury, we found our lodgings for the night at the Middlebury Inn, a historic hotel that has operated continuously for over 180 years. Our room had actually been two rooms at one point, as evidenced by the two bathrooms and the framing between the front and the back of the bedroom. One of the great parts of going on a Christmas road trip is seeing how different parts of the country bedeck themselves for the season. We saw many candles in windows, garlands over doors, and multi-colored lights along roof lines. While these features can be seen all over, they seem more picturesque when the homes they hang upon predate the last century or two.
Our room at the Middlebury was so big that we could have had Landon sleep in the closet. 

When Landon woke up the next morning, the first thing he did was jump out of bed to trap Eliza in the closet. Oh, boy. We hoped his antics would not be a sign of things to come. Landon does enjoy road trips and staying at hotels, but he doesn’t always behave so well when we take these long trips. Frankly, it’s hard for a big person, and much more so for a wee one like him. We had breakfast at the inn: Waffles with Vermont maple syrup and an omelet with maple cured ham. They’re big on maple in Vermont, and with reason. Five percent of all the maple syrup in the world comes from here.

From the inn, we embarked on our “Made in Vermont” tour. Our first three stops were right in Middlebury, which is an area that has attracted many creative people. We stopped first at Maple Landmark Woodcraft, a company that sells handmade toys and knickknacks made from maple and other hardwoods. The smell of wood being sawed and sanded sent Mike back to those times when he would help his parents with woodworking projects like cutting wood panels for the living room and his bedroom or headboards for his and his sister’s beds. Love that smell! We bought Eliza a colorful little rattle with a bell and Landon a truck to build and a yo-yo to learn how to make spin. Both kids seemed very content to play with their new toys for the rest of the day and beyond.

From there, we went to Danforth Pewter, known for its jewelry, Disney ornaments, and snowflake ornaments inspired from the prints made by “Snowflake” Wilson Bentley (more on him later). We have a few of the snowflake ornaments, so we wanted to see where the magic happened. We had an interesting conversation with the shopkeeper, who said that the owners still come in each day to work on their craft. Judi Danforth hand carves in wax the molds for each of the company’s creations, and Fred Danforth does the holloware creations (vases, cups, plates, etc.). We found some baubles and a couple of keepsake boxes for the kids. Beautiful work!

Next, we traveled back down the road to Beau Ties, Ltd. of Vermont. Mike has bought bow ties through their online store, so we thought since we were here, it would be fun to stop in. We met the owners, Bill Kenerson and Deb Venman, who come in most days to see how things are running. The sales room was all of 14 feet square, and the factory floor consisted of a team of maybe a dozen women sewing ties from beautiful and exotic fabrics in a longer room that could be seen through a window in the sales room. Of course, we had to get some ties for the road. Strangely, Landon expressed no interest in getting his own tie. Apparently ties make his neck feel tight (Have we mentioned that Landon really does not like dressing up for church on Sundays?). “Ain’t that the truth?” Mike agrees.

We were surprised by how small each of these businesses looked in person. Each business consisted of basically one large(ish) building with a retail store that looked onto an area where customers can see workers either saw and sand wooden toys, work and pour pewter, or cut and sew bow tie fabric. You get the sense that these are products made right here right now by real people with skill and creativity.

We left Middlebury to go up to Shelburne and the Vermont Teddy Bear factory. Several years back, when they still lived in Provo, Mike and Hallie bought each other two Vermont Teddy Bears (Maggie and Ebenezer) for their anniversary in the days before they had kiddos of their own. Now the four of us got to see where Vermont Teddies are born. We took a pun-laden factory tour with the requisite workers actually sewing and assembling the bears, and we learned that not only are the bears assembled in the US, but that they are made from American materials. We bought Eliza a little bear to be friends with the one Zoraida bought for her, and Eliza seemed to like that idea. Landon was very helpful and drew Eliza a picture before going to the children’s play area to build himself a foam log and stone house. Mom bought the kids cute pajamas at a great discount at the PajamaGram outlet store (Vermont Teddy Bears and PajamaGram are sister companies). 

Daylight was burning, so we pressed on to our next stop: Jericho, home to “Snowflake” Wilson Bentley and the Jericho Historical Society located in the Old Red Mill. Mr. Bentley was a pioneer in the field of photomicrography, and over many years he took more than 5000 pictures of snowflakes. His work was published in National Geographic and Scientific American. The Old Red Mill has a store and a Snowflake Bentley exhibit, so we went over to take a look.

We ended our day in Waterbury at the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour. We saw a movie about the company’s founding and history, watched ice cream being made and packaged in the plant, and had samples of ice cream. Yummy! As part of Mike’s tour, he got a T-shirt that read “Body by Ben & Jerry’s.” 

Our new motto. Not to be frivolous, but life's too short not to do what inspires you and gives you joy!

One thing that struck Mike about Vermont as we went on the tours was the quiet sense of pride Vermonters seemed to feel in their independence and spirit of entrepreneurship. It’s telling that Vermont was an independent nation for a few years between the end of the Revolution and its becoming the 14th State of the USA. Some of that independent spirit seems to have continued to the present day.

When we arrived at our hotel in Waterbury, our computers had arrived to greet us. After another dip in the pool, the kids (and grown-ups) were more than ready to hit the hay.  
"I'm happy to sleep right here, thanks!"
We spent most of Saturday and Sunday on the road in earnest, traveling first from Waterbury, Vermont to St. Andrews by the Sea, New Brunswick, and then from St. Andrews to New Germany, Nova Scotia. On Saturday, we began the day a little late due to the fact that, despite the weather reports to the contrary, it snowed during the night. Well, it is early winter, so we shouldn’t have been surprised. Still, we dropped twenty degrees from Thursday to Friday, and about ten more from Saturday to Sunday. On Sunday morning, we awoke to a thermometer reading of 13 degrees. And we’re going further north?!

We concluded our drive through Vermont by passing through Montpelier (pop. 7800 +/-), the smallest capital of the 50 states, and moving from mostly maple and spruce into stands of birch. While the area is asleep now, signs abounded advertising summertime camping and fishing attractions. We imagine the area must be magnificent in the fall, judging by all the hills filled with now-dormant deciduous trees.

As we entered New Hampshire on Saturday morning, we had our first bit of morning drama when a lady made a left turn right in front of Hallie into her lane. Nothing like a near collision to get the blood pumping and set the paranoia into high gear. We continued down US Route 2 and Interstate 93 through the Washington Valley, and as we reached the top of a crest, we looked down to find Santa’s Village. While many might think Santa lives at the North Pole (and some of us still remember that he used to live in Southern California), it turns out he lives near Jefferson, New Hampshire! Too bad we couldn’t stay to play and visit, but we had miles to go and daylight was a-burnin’. The previous night’s snow had left the Mt. Washington Valley dusted with a light layer of new fallen snow, and clouds still shrouded the top of Mt. Washington, home to the wildest weather in the country.

We wound our way through New Hampshire’s hamlets and into Maine. By 3:30 it started getting dark again, and homes started lighting up for the Christmas season. Out here many people not only decorate their homes, but if they don’t have a lit evergreen tree out in their front yard, they may have one decorated up on their front porch, in addition to the tree inside. The whole area is quite rural, so we would come across a house or two only every so often as we progressed from Bangor to Calais and St. Stephen. After making a last minute stop at the Wal-Mart in Calais for some items we forgot to pack, we finally entered Canada, where we lost an hour as we moved into Atlantic time.

We stayed the night at the Fairmont Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews by the Sea, a grand old lady in the style of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island or the Hotel Coronado in San Diego. Our room had been upgraded, so we had plenty of room to move around. Although we had basically spent the day sitting, we all settled down pretty quickly for an early bedtime. Here are some views of the hotel: 

Some views from St. Andrews:

Look closer to see the mist rising off the water as it the moist air drops to below freezing. 
On Sunday, we drove from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia. Nothing special to report about the actual road trip. We had mostly dry roads with some snow part way through the trip. Once we got to the Doreys’, we were just happy to be done for a bit. The kids enjoyed getting out of the car to stretch their legs and visiting with everyone. Now we can look forward to experiencing a Nova Scotia Christmas!

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