O Canada!

Next to France and Italy, which for me is a toss-up, I love Québec best. I won’t speak for Hubby, but I believe he feels pretty much the same way. Therefore, in honor of Canada Day, and all things Canadian, here are just a few photos from past summer trips. In the cityscape cover photo, you can see almost all of the walled Vieux Ville, the old city, with the Château Frontenac at its heart on the right, overlooking the St. Lawrence. It is all so lovely. If I could just wish myself there, right now…

 

Dutch country ‘Roots’

Even when you’re not completely #retired, there’s more time for spur-of-the-moment adventures.

Finding ourselves with an obligation-less day, on Tuesday we set out for the legendary Root’s Market in Pennsylvania Dutch country. There were other possibilities, of course, but Root’s is open ONLY on Tuesdays, and we knew it would be an easy ride that wouldn’t consumer the entire day.

Farmers’ markets are ubiquitous in this part of the world. Central Pennsylvania, once you get out of its small cities, is still replete with farmland even though much of it, sadly, has been sold off for development. In the summer months, we never buy fruit or vegetables in the supermarket—we go right to the source. There’s a farm market not too far away that has been in the same family for more than a century. More about that one on another day as it deserves its own post!

People have been telling us about the wonders of Root’s for years. Even though the best of the summer bounty is still a few weeks away, we thought that it might have something unique to offer.

And, in a way, it did: a cast of thousands. Shoppers, that is, purchasing everything from $1 boxes of assorted school supplies to fruits and vegetables to locally smoked meats  to flowering plants… and then some. Although disbursed through several buildings and the outdoor areas between them, the crowd was thick and slow-moving. And it was hot.

I made a few discoveries:

One is that even the Amish have discovered the selling power of designer coffee.

Another is that if you have a grandchild who likes matchbox vehicles, you can find them there, “at a good price.”

The third is that the larger the market, the larger the crowd, the more overwhelming the display, the less inclined we are to buy anything. Hubby and I are very much alike in that respect.

And so, we’ve done Root’s. Our next fruit-and-veggie buy will be at one of our local farm stands. And our next spontaneous day trip will probably be to a rose garden.

 

 

One in a thousand

It’s a gloomy Friday. While I appreciate the good things that rainy days do for the water supply, the bounty of fruits and vegetables our farmers will be harvesting soon, and the flowers and shrubs in my “dooryard,” as my Maine relatives call it,  I would prefer some of that sunshine we had a few days ago.

So I guess I’ll just have to create it for us, with a photo tour of our cruise on the 1000 Islands a summer or two ago.

The 1000 Islands, on the Canadian Border in northwestern New York, had been on my you-know-what-list since roughly 1971, when I worked with a well-known photographer whose family had a summer place on one of the islands. Stunned by his photos and fascinated that there were not one, but two, castles there, I determined to see them someday. More than 40 years later, Hubby and I were on our way.

To start with, it was an easy ride north, straight up 81. And every day after that was easy and relaxing as well. The St. Lawrence, which surely must be one of the most beautiful rivers on the planet, is one of the longest and most complex water systems in North America. The water is French marine blue and the air is crisp and clean. This is one of the few tourist boat excursions you absolutely should take—totally relaxing and well worth the price for the history and lore you hear along the way.

We always do road trips in September, to avoid the summer throngs. If you like more activity, such as summer festivals,  you won’t find much to do in the 1000 Islands after Labor Day, save to enjoy the considerable natural beauty.  That was fine for us, especially for a first visit. We stayed on the US side but did drive across the bridge to Ontario to visit the charming town of Gananoque. Yes, that’s a French name, and there’s a French festival in Cape Vincent, on the US side, every July. If we ever go back that way, I’d like to be there then, crowds or not, loving all things French as I do.

There are actually 1,864 islands in the archipelago; the qualification for island status, as you will find on the website linked above, is that the island must be visible 365 days per year and must have at least one tree. And yes, the salad dressing probably originated there.

If by chance your weather is as dismal as ours, or even if it isn’t, perhaps you’ll enjoy some photos from our cruise. Perhaps you’ll plan your own visit if you haven’t been there. The cover photo, above, is Boldt Castle.

 

 

 

 

Right under your nose

When I was a kid burying my feet (thankfully, not my head, although I’ve been accused of that on occasion) in the sand in Ocean City NJ, I used to love watching for the banner-towing planes that flew back and forth over the crowded beaches.  The sky banner I remember most vividly advertised a nightclub in “wet” Somer’s Point, just outside “dry” Ocean City:

Your Father’s Mustache… where the time of your life is right under your nose.

I’ve pilfered that versatile slogan time and time again. So many treasures and curiosities lie just beneath the visible surface of our everyday lives—just under your nose, in fact. When you’re #retired, you have time to search them out. And so I did today.

My initial goal was to locate a photo of the restoration of a historic church in Harrisburg, PA, where I was raised but not born (that was Boston, remember?). My uncle, an Old World-worthy stonemason, had rebuilt the brickwork some 50 years ago. While my search for the photo proved fruitless, in the process I stumbled on an interesting website—The Historical Markers Database, “an illustrated searchable online catalog of historical information viewed through the filter of roadside and other permanent outdoor markers, monuments, and plaques” produced and maintained by an “organization of self-directed volunteers” and over 500 “contributing correspondents.”

Within the database listing for “Old Salem Church,” I found nothing about the  church’s restoration, but I did find links to other historic sites in Harrisburg, including “The Peanut House.” My mother had often talked about the little store at 2nd and Chestnut Streets, run by  Italian immigrant Salvatore Magaro, and for years I’d thought the owners were cousins. The digging I did today leads me to believe that they probably were not. What I did discover, however, is that “The Peanut House,” in a prior incarnation, figured in the genesis of our National Anthem. Here are excerpts from the inscription on the marker:

On this site for nearly 180 years stood a two and a-half story brick building with ties to local, state and national history. Initially the home of early settler John Frey, the house was sold in 1817 to a noted clockmaker, Frederick Heisley, whose son George is linked to the National Anthem. George Heisley, during the War of 1812, was a member of Pennsylvania’s First Regiment. At the siege of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, September 1814, he reportedly provided Francis Scott Key with music for the Star Spangled Banner.

The house later was owned by the Boyd Family, then a succession of merchants. At various times it was an oyster house, a dry cleaning business and a restaurant. Its nickname, “The Peanut House,” comes from Salvatore Magaro, an Italian immigrant who came to America as a stowaway at age 17 in 1889. In 1921 he leased the building and turned it into a grocery store and living quarters. His store, “The Buzy Corner,” lasted 70 years and earned a reputation and a name for its fresh vegetables and its nickel-a-bag fresh-roasted peanuts.

Considering that I’ve lived in Central Pennsylvania for so much of my life, it’s pretty sad that I know so little local history, and that local history as a discipline gets so little attention. So—here’s an idea for those summer days when you’re looking for something to do with your partner, your pals, or your grands. Go to the Historical Marker Database, pick a location near you, and head out the door. You may be pleasantly surprised at what’s been right under your nose all along.

A village by the lake

It’s HOT here in Central Pennsylvania, so it seems logical to continue the “going north” theme of my  “I miss the mountains” post a few days ago. Turns out I also miss northern waters.

I am absolutely enthralled by the Great Lakes. So far, I’ve been on the US shores of Erie, Michigan, and Ontario. The others are on my you-know-what list, and I’m really itching to see them from both sides of the border.

Sackets Harbor, NY is on the banks of Lake Ontario, near the point where it meets the St. Lawrence and an easy drive from Watertown NY.  It was an unexpected surprise during a September trip to the 1000 Islands. More about that trip in a future post. Sackets Harbor is historically important—there’s a War of 1812 battlefield there—and absolutely lovely. You can see in the photo above that the blue of the lake and sky just about match! How’s that for soothing?

In defense of letters… in cursive

I’m gonna sit write down and write myself a letter
And make believe it came from you.

There are very bright kids afoot in this techno-paradise of a world who can’t read handwriting. I think it’s best not to get started on what an aberration I believe that to be, or on the fact that one of the most respected teachers I know wonders, with less cynicism than you would imagine, if the company that brought us the iPad is the anti-Christ. All arguments for the valuable boost to brain development, thought processes, and hand-eye coordination that cursive provides aside, you can decide that one on your own. I think it’s fair to say, though, that the techno-genie is out of the bottle for good.

That discussion about cursive coincided with a trip down memory lane. I was looking through a box of photos when I found the last two notes my treasured Auntie Anna wrote me, just months before she passed unexpectedly. She was my father’s baby sister, she lived on the other side of the country, and for years we never saw her at all.

But she wrote letters that my father, who wanted me to know his distant siblings, encouraged me to read. And on those few occasions during my growing up years when I actually got to see her in person, I already knew her, just as I did my other aunties and uncles.

Soon after email began encroaching on every aspect of our lives, “real” letters became the object of derision—”snail mail.” The magic of stuffing correspondence into a mailbox, from whence it could somehow reach any destination near or far and, it should be noted, record the history of humankind, sadly disappeared. Now that we’ve joined the 21st Century, most of us don’t even find bills in our mailboxes. To make matters worse, despite the ubiquitous coverage of our mobile phones and their ability to send and receive email, we’ve truncated communication even more with texting—for which we don’t even write out words. There’s no longer any mystery to receiving a package—it’s what you ordered from Amazon.

R U home?
Is anyone?

For centuries, letter writing was the link that held loved ones together, even after the invention of the telephone. More than that, letters held the key to understanding historic events and human behavior. Letters helped to keep our soldiers’ heads and hearts whole through far too many wars on foreign soil and our own. They built relationships, word by carefully and lovingly chosen word. They congratulated, expressed sorrow, passed the news of the day, kept families together, inspired and revealed, said “thank you” or “with love.” They shared photos. They contained surprises. they instructed and advised.

They told our stories.

Is all of that lost? Have we become so blasé that we no longer think deeply enough about our complicated lives—or, more important, the lives of those we care about—to write down and share our thoughts with them? To want earnestly to hear about their complicated lives?

Although I don’t have any of their letters, I still treasure the few things I have written in my parents’ own hand—birthday cards, recipes, the travel diary my parents kept. I read what they’ve written and they leap off the page at me, as if they were right here in this room. You don’t get that in an email, or even a phone call, folks—much less a text. Your hand-writing is all your own, and a hand-written letter is precious; it is something that stays.

Lately, I’ve started writing an occasional letter. The response to the first I sent to a friend made me feel so good that I’m making a conscious effort to write more.

In cursive.

Want to hear the great Billy Williams sing the tune? Here’s the link

I miss the mountains

This time of year, I get a very specific wanderlust that  always involves going north, to the mountains. I was never lucky enough to live in New England, but my father was born and raised in western Maine, just 30 miles from the Canadian border. I’ve had one Yankee foot since I was old enough to understand that I was born in Boston, not Pennsylvania.

Throughout most of my life, being “down the shore” was always my favorite summer treat. I still love the ocean—don’t get me wrong—but some time in the mid-90s, the mountains of New England stole my heart. Every year since, when summer comes, I begin to yearn—there is no other word for it—for the mountains up north, and the sweeping crystalline lakes, as blue as a June sky, that punctuate them.

Just about wherever you go in New England, the mountains are with you. At the “Height of the Land” on the way to the Rangeley Lakes region in Maine, you can see Canada on one side, New Hampshire on the other, and Mooselookmeguntic Lake beneath. It’s hard to imagine a more breathtaking landscape—that’s one view in the photo above. Click the links to learn more, including the real truth about the lake’s interesting name, which the natives simply call “Mooselook.” And if you want to have your cake and eat it, too, drive up the coast to Bar Harbor and take in the view at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, where the mountains meet the sea.

By the way, I’m so grateful to our relatives up north, who always welcome us warmly and share their favorite places with us.

Photo: Mooselook, in the Rangeley Lake Region.

Note: “I Miss the Mountains” is an absolutely gorgeous song from the Broadway musical, Next to Normal. I borrowed the title for this post but, unfortunately, the song has nothing to do with mountains. Still, it’s worth a listen.