Saturday, May 31, 2003

Ascutney Day

Kay fixed us a big breakfast of eggs, oatmeal, flatbread and fruit. Fortified with all those calories, we put on our hiking gear and headed out to the base of the Brownsville trail up Mt Ascutney, telling ourselves that we would only climb a little way so our legs would be fresh for the race the next day.

The trail was steeper than we had anticipated, but it was fun and we weren't put off. We stopped at a waterfall, then at an abandoned quarry. A lot of old equipment had been left behind, including rusty cables, pulleys, beams and such things. I was wondering how they got the stone blocks down the mountain when I came across some tracks leading to the cliff edge. Question answered. The tracks had been abandoned so long ago that trees had grown up between them.

We decided to continue to the lookout point, where we saw a sign that said 0.9 mile to the Stone Hut. We didn't know what the Stone Hut was, but it sounded intriguing. So even though it was more hiking than we had planned on, we continued up. As we neared the hut, we came across a group of chatty ladies leisurely making their way up the trail. I was annoyed, since we had been alone all this time. Then to our further annoyance we heard the sounds of a party up ahead. Through the trees we could see that there was some kind of event going on at the Stone Hut. I was pretty unhappy. We had climbed all that way and weren't even going to be able to enjoy it. But much to our surprise, we were welcomed warmly as we stumbled into the clearing. Before we could protest that we had nothing to do with whatever group they were, they had plied us with food and lemonade and handed us little cards commemorating Ascutney Day. They asked us to sign their Ascutney Day book.

We asked a few questions and found that we had unknowingly taken part in a 30 year tradition. That Saturday had been chosen for the annual Ascutney Day trail climb, where anyone who climbed to the Stone Hut could join the celebration of the mountain and its history. We explained why we were there, and mentioned that we were doing the Covered Bridges race the next day. We were subsequently interoduced to a man named Steve who was also doing the race but had more sensibly gotten to the Stone Hut via the 0.5 mile downhill route from the summit, which one can drive to.

Upon learning we were only half a mile from the summit, we figured we might as well go the rest of the way, so we climbed to the summit and climbed the lookout tower. After taking a few pictures, we went back to the party, where I had some rice krispy bars, a chocolate chip cookie and some trail mix. We visited awhile with Steve and his wife, who told us they were elementary school teachers. After visiting with them for awhile and meeting a few other kind people who refilled our water bottles and gave us insect repellent and trail tips, we headed back down.

Following the recommendation of our new friends, we tried a different trail on our way down, which was very rustic, uncleared and tricky. It led past a log cabin and then joined into the trail we had taken up earlier. I managed to slip once crossing a stream and fell full body onto a rock. But I must have done something right because I wasn't hurt at all.

We found ourselves back at the base of the mountain at 2pm and went back to the inn for snacks. Kay had left out cornbread with maple syrup and of course there were still plenty of chocolate brownies.

By now I was very worried about what the long hike had done to my legs and how this would affect my race the next morning. I drank some Endurox and tortured myself by soaking in alternating cold and hot water in the antique claw-foot tub. Then we took a nap and afterwards went to Woodstock for the pre-race pasta supper at the Masonic lodge. The food was good and cheap, and we visited with a couple from New Jersey. The lady was too loud and chatty for the quiet mood I was in, but that wasn't her fault.

After dinner Dan and I took a stroll through the town. It was drizzling a bit and we wondered if it would be raining in the morning, but of course there was nothing we could do about it so we didn't let it worry us too much. We went back to the inn and had some hot tea in the parlor before turning in.
Contemplating a waterfall on Ascutney Posted by Hello
Defunct rails on Ascutney Posted by Hello
Abandoned quarry equipment on Ascutney Posted by Hello
Pondering a trail on Ascutney Posted by Hello
At the summit tower on Ascutney Posted by Hello

Friday, May 30, 2003

North To Vermont

We got up at 7, got dressed and packed our things for the drive to Vermont. We had breakfast at Paul's, then visited briefly with Grandma who appeared to still be tired from the day before. We got on the road at 10:30, with me worrying about Grandma's health, she seemed so out of things.

But I quickly forgot my worries, enjoying the scenery as we drove to Vermont. We stopped to stretch our legs at the Vermont welcome center and then went to the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham. We were hungry and grazed the samples, which included the best apple butter I've ever had in my life. I wanted to buy some, but was afraid of adding the weight of such a large jar to my luggage. We were only getting started and I knew I would be buying a lot of things on this trip. And sure enough, I stocked up on little things at the store, more than justifying the cost of the samples I had eaten.

Since we were ahead of schedule, we decided to take a detour to the old Shaker village in Enfield, New Hampshire. We were pressed for time, so of course a very chatty guide wanted to talk endlessly to us about the finer points of Shaker chairs. We managed to escape the guide and toured the museum and grounds. The old stone common dwelling was very impressive, and had been converted into an inn. We speculated what it would be like to stay there sometime. We also checked out the workshop, which was only partially restored and had a cool old painted ceiling that was still in very good shape in many spots. Next we wandered through the herb garden and tried unsuccessfully to find the cemetery. We were later told that most of the stones fell down and were replaced by a single stone representing everyone. It was time to go, but I wanted to buy a few things at the gift shop. This turned into an exercise in frustration as the volunteer was unsure how to use her new computer and we had trouble getting a phone line for credit approval. I was beginning to regret buying anything! Finally I was able to make my purchases and we got on the road again.

We got to Kay's on schedule and had tea with strawberry/rhubarb pastries. Kay had some unfortunate news for us. Apparently she had been diagnosed with MS recently. But she's doing fine and there seemed to be no danger she would close the inn anytime soon.

After tea we headed out for dinner in East Dover. It was a long drive but we had a very nice dinner of soup, salad, meat, rice, vegetables and an insanely delicious bread pudding. Afterwards we hung out on the front porch and enjoyed the cool evening air and a cup of coffee.

We arrived back at Kay's around 10:30, made some hot tea, helped ourselves to some of Kay's delicious brownies, and sat outside to look at the stars. Then we went upstairs to unpack a little, write some postcards and get some sleep.
Vemont Country Store Posted by Hello
Shaker common dwelling at Enfield Posted by Hello
The cozy Millbrook inn Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Happy Birthday to Grandma

John woke us up at 7:30, as requested, then left with his quiche to go have breakfast with Jeff and Grandma at the nursing home. I showered, dressed and went downstairs to make the frosting and frost the birthday cake. I was too lazy to trim the cake layers, which had gotten a bit lumpy on the flight from Houston, so the cake was slightly lopsided. But it looked okay. Next year I'll trim the layers, though.

With that accomplished, Dan and I went for breakfast at Paul's, our usual breakfast place in Cheshire. Then we went to the store to see if we could find a cake carrier, because there was no way that the cake would make it all the way to Meriden without some kind of cover. I looked all over the store and found no cake carriers, but I did find some tin trays and some big plastic salad bowls. One of each made for an approximation of a cake carrier, so the problem was solved.

We got to the nursing home around 11:30 only to find Grandma wasn't interested in having any cake. She let us take her picture with it, though. And she insisted we have lunch with her. We weren't hungry, having only eaten breakfast a short time before, but it was her birthday, and one doesn't refuse the simple requests of a 97 year old woman on her birthday. She still wasn't ready for cake after lunch, having been given an ice cream sundae for dessert, so we agreed to come back at 6 and have a little party with her, John and Jeff.

We went home, changed into hiking gear and headed out to Sleeping Giant State Park. One of the things we had wanted to do last year was try the difficult blue trail, but we were pressed for time. So we set our watches for an hour and ten minutes and headed out. The trail was insanely difficult in some stretches, requiring balancing and rock climbing skills. I later learned that people training to climb mountains in Nepal use Sleeping Giant for training. When our watch alarms went off after an hour and ten minutes, we turned around and headed back. We got home in plenty of time to shower, change and get to the nursing home at 6. John and Jeff were there and we had a little birthday party for Grandma in a room they called the "fish room" because of the giant aquarium along one wall. Much to our surprise, the cake was already missing a piece. When we questioned Grandma about it, she just smiled. Apparently she had decided to have a little afternoon snack!

After the party, Grandma was tired so we went for a simple dinner at a Chinese restaurant, then went home. Dan and I did what little laundry we had already dirtied and visited with John until Susan came home at 9:30. Then I talked to her in the kitchen while the laundry finished, and then went to bed.
Frosting the lopsided cake Posted by Hello
Grandma with her birthday cake Posted by Hello
Me, Grandma and the cake! Posted by Hello
The birthday party! Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Be good, Bunny! We'll be home in two weeks! Posted by Hello

To Connecticut

For my first day of vacation, I was up at the same time I usually get up to go to work, 5:30. But at least I could wear jeans, and Dan went to get fresh bagels and coffee, so that helped. We were driving ourselves to the airport, so after finishing some last-minute packing and seeing that the pets were fed and everything was in order, we headed out. Traffic was light and we arrived at the airport on schedule.

We both managed to set off the metal detectors (Dan's shoes had steel plates and my sweater had a steel zipper), but luckily that wasn't an indication of how the rest of the day was going to go. For entertainment while we waited for our flight, we watched some brown-robed Asian monks nap and meditate on the floor. One had an authentic conical straw hat, another had a gray fishing hat and a walkman. Buddhism welcomes both traditionalists and moderns, it would seem.

Our flight to Cleveland was uneventful except for lunch, which consisted of the world's tiniest sandwich and a chocolate candy. Since we were still hungry upon arrival and had a little time to kill before our connecting flight arrived, I bought us a veggie wrap and oatmeal cookie to share at the airport. The veggie wrap was okay, but it was essentially salad in a whole wheat tortilla. In Houston it would've had guacamole and cheese or something. But no matter, it staved off the hunger for awhile and we boarded our flight to Hartford without problems. As we neared Hartford though, we were diverted into a holding pattern about 30 miles away from Bradley Field due to the convergence of several storm systems in the area and 30 mph winds. Dan had never been in a holding pattern before and I told him that procedure was to fly in a big circle until either our airport cleared us to land or we ran out of fuel and crashed. He said that wasn't funny and I should save such jokes for when we were on the ground.

We were about 10 minutes from being diverted to Albany to refuel when the storms cleared and we were allowed to proceed to Bradley and land. We quickly picked up our luggage and car and headed toward Cheshire. We managed to get the 5pm traffic, but it cleared out a bit south of Hartford and we had an easy trip the rest of the way.

My uncle Jeff was at John's house when we arrived. I hadn't seen Jeff in something like 24 years. He is only 2 years older than John, but looks older than that, probably because he smokes. But he's a quiet man, as I remembered, very intelligent and with a subtle sense of humor. We all sat in the living room and visited, and it was interesting to see the two brothers interact. This was something I hadn't noticed much the last time I met Jeff, and it was fascinating to see how similar and yet how different these two men really were. It got late and no one bothered to turn on a light, so when Susan arrived, she wondered aloud what we were doing sitting in the dark, and announced it was time to go eat because she was hungry.

We went to a nice restaurant I'd never been to before, but which I was told is popular with couples and prom kids. Luckily no prom kids were in evidence that night. I had a delicious capellini with artichokes, mushrooms and garlic. There was way too much pasta for one person, and of course I ate it all. After dinner John and I went to the store. He needed to buy breakfast things to make a quiche for Grandma in the morning. I needed an electric mixer so I could make the frosting for her birthday cake.

I didn't get to bed until around midnight, making for a long first day of vacation.
Our little friend in Cheshire Posted by Hello