Friday, December 7, 2012

Hallmark Countdown to Christmas Giveaway

 I've told you before that I am a Christmas addict. I have enough Christmas decorations to decorate at least four or five trees and that doesn't include all the tchotchkes and stuff that doesn't go on the tree.

As much as I love all the decorations and shopping, for me at least, the best part of Christmas has always been the anticipation. I think waiting and longing is perhaps the best part of Christmas. When Grandad and I got married, I discovered that his family actually opens their presents on Christmas Eve. I was appalled! I immediately set him straight and we've always opened our gifts on Christmas morning.

Over the years we've used various methods of counting down to Christmas. We've had advent calendars where you lift the flap and read a verse every day, tiny boxes with candy treats for each day, and an advent wreath with candles to light before dinner every night and a short devotional to help understand the true meaning of the approaching holiday.

This is the advent calendar that I sewed from a pre-printed fabric when the kids were little. Every year on December 1st, it replaced the curtain on our back door. Nick and Katy would take turns moving the little bear all over the house as he "looked for Christmas." After Nick left for college I decided not to put it up one year. It was the first thing Nick looked for when he got home that year. I had to dig it out of the closet and put it in place immediately. It now hangs in the entry way of Nick and Marie's home in Houston.

This year for Thanksgiving, our family met in Houston at Nick's house. This is the year that neither of our children will be home for Christmas, so we thought it was important to get together at Thanksgiving. And, we planned a Friday trip to the Texas Renaissance Festival in Magnolia. Unfortunately Nick had to stay on an oil rig and we only got to see him for a few minutes on Saturday night.

Perhaps the toughest part of holidays once your kids grow up and get married is that you have to share them with their in-laws. This year, Nick and Marie will travel to El Paso for Christmas with Marie's family. Katy and Travis (and Our Little Princesses) will spend Christmas with Travis' family. In the years when we don't see them for Christmas, I think it's even more important to try to help build the excitement for the little ones. This year, Hallmark is helping do that. As they were leaving for the drive home on Saturday evening after Thanksgiving, we gave each of Our Princesses a Hallmark Interactive Greeting Card that has a countdown clock.

Princess E also received a "My Wish List" card so she can record her list to send to Santa. The girls are enjoying checking every day to see how many more days until Santa comes.

You may remember that I made the girls their very own advent calendar a couple of years ago. It's made of little magnetized spice canisters that hold candy treats and Christmas prizes. They love it, but it's not something they can hold and carry around with them. These cards are more tangible for them. They each have their own card and they can take it wherever they want. That's especially fun for Our Littlest Princess. You know how little ones want to hold and carry things are they toddle around.

It's not too late for you to get in on the Countdown to Christmas. Hallmark will give one of Grams' readers a holiday greeting pack which includes:
  • An Interactive Recordable Greeting
  • An Interactive Countdown Greeting
  • An assortment of additional boxed and Signature Collection greetings
To enter, simply leave a comment on this post. The giveaway will close at midnight CST on Sunday, December 9, 2012.


*Disclosure: Hallmark provided me with a holiday greeting card pack to review and one for this giveaway. The review and comments are all mine.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Green Giant Seasoned Steamers Giveaway

If you're a regular reader at Grams Made It you may remember that I didn't actually learn to cook until I quit working full time about six years ago. I learned the basics in 7th grade home economics class. But, as for putting a meal on the table, I just never had to do it.

When I did finally take over the cooking, I learned that the subtropical climate in South Texas makes it difficult to keep fresh produce. With only two of us to cook for, produce often spoils before I use it, or I have to stop at the grocery store every couple of days to get whatever vegetables I plan to cook.

The best way I've found for avoiding those extra trips to the grocery store is to use frozen vegetables. So when My Blog Spark offered me an opportunity to review Green Giant Seasoned Steamers, I jumped at the chance to try them for free.

Seasoned Steamers come in six interesting varieties.

My local grocery store did not have all of the varieties in stock. But, since I was making chili and cornbread for dinner, I chose Honey Roasted Sweet Corn. It was the perfect complement to our dinner.

Green Giant Seasoned Steamers cook in minutes right in the bag in your microwave oven. You can have delicious, nutritious vegetables in just minutes. The corn was tender crisp and perfectly seasoned with peppers and a touch of honey. It was so good, I might even try the Brussels Sprouts.

For more information, including nutritional information, visit the Green Giant web site.

Green Giant and My Blog Spark have teamed up to offer one of my readers the gift pack shown here. The winner will receive an apron, bowl, slotted spoon, and a coupon for the package of Green Giant Seasoned Steamers of your choice.

To enter, just leave a comment on this post telling me which of the six varieties of Seasoned Steamers you would like to try.  This giveaway will close at midnight CST on Wednesday, November 28.

Everyone can download a coupon for $1.00 off of one package of Seasoned Steamers.

Disclosure: I received a gift pack identical to the one shown above and a coupon for a package of Green Giant Seasoned Steamers in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.


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Monday, November 19, 2012

She Looks Real To Me

One of the things I always tried to instill in my children is that they could grow up to be anything they wanted to be. As long as they were willing to put in the work necessary to prepare themselves, no career was out of reach.

Our children were raised to know that college was the next step after high school graduation. When Katy graduated, she told me that she wanted to take a "gap year" and go travel around Europe. While I thought that would be a lovely thing to do, I did not feel it was in the best interest of either Katy, nor our budget. So, when school started in the fall, she went to college.

Katy has related to me that she now appreciates our approach in insisting that she go to college and is taking the same tack with Our Little Princesses.

Recently, she called me to tell me that she was telling Princess E that she also could grow up to be anything she wanted to be. She gave her several examples like, you can be a mommy, or a teacher, or a doctor. She further reported that Princess E then became very excited. She was so excited that she practically jumped up and down as she replied "OR A REAL FAIRY!"

Well, she did say anything.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Visit To Aunt B's

On Saturday we spent the day at Aunt B and Uncle Mack's house. Aunt B is my sister (her real name is Bylinda). They live out in the country near LaVernia, Texas. We were there to celebrate our sister Kay's 63rd birthday. Kay lives in a group home in Seguin which is about 30 minutes from Bylinda.

We had a good crowd and a lot of delicious food. Katy and Travis came and brought Our Little Princesses. Bylinda's youngest son, Zack, came and brought his two children, McKinzey and Connor. Our good friends Helen and Dan Flores and their son, Danny, came too. Mack barbecued brisket and chicken. Bylinda made her world famous macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and homemade barbecue sauce. Katy made guacamole. Helen brought a lemon cake with seven-minute frosting, along with brownies and chocolate chip peanut butter cookies. I took spinach dip and Granny's oatmeal cookies. Everyone had plenty to eat.

It was a gorgeous day to spend in the country. The Princesses ran all over the yard. The women sat on the back patio and watched them play while we caught up on all the latest.

A trip to the country gave Our Little Princesses a close-up view of nature which Princess E found really fascinating. There were two walking sticks on one of the patio chairs. They appeared to be "doing what comes naturally." But, while she was interested in these odd-looking creatures, she didn't ask what they were doing and we didn't enlighten her. There were butterflies everywhere. When she walked out into the yard, there were so many that they would rise up in a cloud. She tried her hardest to catch one and eventually cried in disappointment when she did not succeed in holding one in her hand.

When the neighbor's dogs saw that there was a crowd, they came over to visit. This delighted Princess J, who loves puppies more than anything else. They were very sweet and playful.

The girls and Grandad really enjoyed being outdoors outside all afternoon. With Grandad's help they checked out the bird feeders; they checked out the shooting range; they climbed on the wishing well; and they lounged on the porch steps.

Aunt B made new outfits for the Princesses. They liked them so much that they wore them the rest of the day.

After dinner, Kay opened her presents while we all watched.

We did some arts and crafts with the kids and just generally hung out together for the rest of the day.

It was good to spend some quality family time. It's been a long time since we all got together.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stick a Fork In Me ... I'm Done

I really love the fact that we live in a country where we are free to express our opinions and differences. There is little I like more than a good political discussion. But the lead up to the recent presidential election and the responses to the results are nothing like a good political discussion.

I am sick of all the vitriol and hatred that is being spewed by both sides. Clearly both sides think the other side is stupid, hateful, and horrible. And, while I once thought that we just had different political views, I'm beginning to think that way too.

For the most part, I try to keep my political views off of this blog. But if you are my friend on Facebook you know which side I am on.

For quite some time now I have practiced a policy of cutting negative people out of my life. If I'm not getting something positive out of a friendship, I'm willing to sever those ties. I find that I need to surround myself with positive people who make me feel good.

The constant spewing of hatred and gloating is getting me down. So, here's the deal. I'm going to take a break from political statements on Facebook. I'm not going to read them and I'm not going to post them. If that doesn't work, I'm going to start "un-friending" people.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It Was the 70's

On this date in 1975 I married the love of my life. We met at a bank teller's window in January of that same year. He was the teller and I was the customer. I made a daily trip to the bank for my employer.

After a couple of weeks, he invited me to have lunch. From that day forward, we went out every weekend. We had our first date on the last Saturday in January. By Valentine's Day I knew I was in love. Pretty soon we were spending every waking hour together. I met and spent time with his family and he did the same with mine. He still tells the story of how scary it was to meet my family for the first time. They were all gathered in the living room when he came to pick me up. As we left he said to me, "I'm so nervous I could pee my pants."

By late summer we were engaged. He popped the question after cooking dinner for me at the tiny cottage where he lived. We were excited and rushed to tell our parents. That's where our whirlwind romance turned into a bit of a storm.

Neither of our parents thought we were right for each other. My mother's first reaction was, "If you get married in the Catholic church, I won't be there." My response was that I understood if her convictions prevented her from being there, but we would indeed be married in the Catholic church. She eventually relented and was there front and center on my wedding day.

Grandad's parents were even less enthusiastic. His father's first question was directed to me, "Are you going to become Catholic?" My response was that perhaps I would consider it eventually, but at that time I didn't know enough about it. His response was "In that case, I cannot allow this marriage." The next few moments are burned into my memory vividly. My husband-to-be looked his father in the eye and said, "You don't understand. We are not asking for your permission. We're telling you that we are going to be married." The resulting silence was deafening. Then he looked at me and said, "We're leaving."

Those words he spoke to his father were the most beautiful words I think I had ever heard. His father was an old-fashioned patriarch. He did not give advice to his children; he gave instructions. I don't believe any of them had ever openly defied him before. To do so was especially difficult for my husband. He just does not have an ounce of defiance in him. As far as I know this was the only time he ever really stood up to his dad and it took a big toll on him. They did not even speak for a full two weeks until his older brother interceded. He brought the of them together and made them talk. It didn't resolve everything, it took a much bigger incident and a near tragedy to completely reconcile all of us.

In the first week of September, while driving home from work, the Volkswagen that my then-fiance was driving was hit broadside by a car doing approximately 80 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone. It rolled three times and hit several parked cars. When I arrived at the hospital, the paramedics were still there. They told me that when they saw the vehicle, they knew that whoever was inside would not be alive. The next week, which we all spent sitting in a hospital room and waiting room while he battled for his life, changed the way we all felt about each other. A plastic surgeon reconstructed the left side of his nose and face. It was more than a year before he could walk without crutches or a leg brace. This near tragedy brought us together as nothing else could have done.

We considered postponing our wedding, but the invitations were printed, the plans were all in place, and our money had been spent. We addressed wedding invitations while sitting in the hospital room. And that story will explain the crutches in our wedding pictures.

When you look at my wedding pictures, just remember, it was the seventies. That's the only explanation I have for the tuxedos and the bridesmaids dresses. But, I will say, orange is still one of my favorite colors and it's entirely possible that I would still choose it today.

Becky Mingle, Jan Skelton Caskey, Laurie Valenta, Brenda McWilliams McCauley, Bylinda McCabe, bride & groom, Gary Valenta, Danny Valenta, Steve Psencik, Terry Rose, John Mingle, Ray Sykowski, Pete Vanecek, Bill McCabe

My husband's parents and I eventually came to love each other. I actually told my mother-in-law that if I ever left him I would have come home to her instead of my parents. They were and are good people. They just grew up in a different way than we did and they had to learn to roll with the punches. They also had to learn to deal with an outspoken and opinionated daughter-in-law who saw things in a different way than they did.
Golly, we were young.

This is our 37th wedding anniversary. It is also our Nick and Marie's 4th anniversary, and it would have been my parent's 70th wedding anniversary. It's a really big day in our family.

November 8th is also my sister, Kay's, birthday. I think she's 63 today. My sister, Bylinda, is hosting a family birthday party for her this Saturday. We'll be traveling to LaVernia for the party and then spending the night in San Antonio so we can spend a little time with Our Little Princesses and their parents. I've set aside tomorrow for baking oatmeal cookies to take with us.

Tonight, we'll go out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. I'm thinking Italian sounds good.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New England Vacation Day 7

On our last full day in New England, we didn't have any particular place we wanted to visit nor any goal to accomplish. We decided to just drive around the area near the resort and see what we could see. Following the same pattern we had used all week, we asked the clerk at the resort to recommend a good place for lunch. She recommended three places that were nearby.

We drove up Mount Sunapee and took a quick look at the ski lift and downhill trails. Since neither of us has ever been skiing, we had very little idea what we were seeing. We laughed when we saw the first aid station and joked that we would both need to know its location if we ever tried skiing.

We went into the town of Newport for lunch at the Salt Hill Pub. They have pub food and traditional American fare. I had Stevie's Pot Roast which was served with mashed potatoes and a mixed winter squash. It was outstanding. Grandad had a cheeseburger which was served on a pretzel burger and came with all the traditional burger trimmings. He said it was really good.

After lunch the clerk at the local Rite-Aid recommended a drive up to Pillsbury State Park. He said it had beautiful views of the lake from the mountain top. When we got there, it was closed for the season. We decided just to keep driving down the same highway. It was a very rural area and it felt a little "Deliverance" if you know what I mean, so we didn't stop, we just kept going.

Eventually we came to a little town called Henniker. As we drove in to Henniker we saw homemade posters and signs advertising a community market in town square. We didn't really have any way to bring produce or baked goods home, but we decided to stop anyway and I'm so glad we did. The people were very friendly, the ginger cookie we bought from one of the vendors was huge and delicious, and the bittersweet chocolate-coconut scone was perfect for breakfast the next morning on the way to the airport.

The market was in a little park with a bandstand, complete with a band playing Texas-style Americana music.

Henniker is a beautiful little town, very picturesque. It is home to New England College which is a gorgeous little liberal arts college with about 1800 students. Most of the buildings are white clapboard construction in the New England style and the campus boasts its own covered bridge which spans the Contoocook River and connects the main campus to the athletic fields.

We saw five different covered bridges while we were in New Hampshire, this was my favorite. It was built using lattice truss construction. Both the construction of the bridge and the views from the bridge are beautiful. Interestingly, this bridge was built in 1972.

The brilliance of the autumn leaves was beginning to fade, but there was still some beautiful scenery in Henniker.

As the sun started to set, we headed back to the resort for our last night in New England. Tomorrow, we head back to South Texas.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New England Vacation Day Six

When we decided to vacation in New England I told my husband that I wanted to eat lobster at least three times in the week we would be there. Now it's day six of our vacation and I have only had one lobster roll which was just okay, not as good as it should have been. So today we are driving to the coast in search of lobster.

We are staying at Mountain Edge Resort and Spa at Mount Sunapee in Newbury, NH. That's pretty much on the other side of the state from the coast, but we're from Texas, so it didn't seem very far at all. It took less than two hours, which is closer than from our house to San Antonio.

We drove to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and drove around the city's waterfront. There were several very nice places to eat, but they were also a little more expensive than we wanted so we kept looking.

I'm going to take a break from the story right here to tell you that the only frustration we experienced on our vacation was coffee. Every place we went in both New Hampshire and Vermont had Green Mountain Coffee. I like Green Mountain Coffee. I use their K-Cups in my Keurig brewer at home. The complaint we have was that it was almost never hot. It was brewed and kept in pump-top thermoses on the coffee bar. It wasn't fresh and it wasn't hot.

While driving through Portsmouth, we happened upon a Starbucks. It didn't take us but a nanosecond to decide to stop for coffee. While there, we asked the baristas about where we might find a reasonably priced lobster meal. They recommended a couple of places nearby on the waterfront. Neither place was what we were looking for so we decided to drive up the coast. Before we knew what had happened, we were crossing into Maine.

Maine has a beautiful visitor information center located at Kittery, ME. We stopped there to see what was nearby and the very helpful volunteer suggested several places we should visit and several restaurants where we could get lobster.

After driving around checking out a few places, we decided on Lobster Cove who had two one pound lobsters for $19.99. As you can see, we were very happy to have our lobster dinner. It was delicious and fun. The waitress offered to take our picture but said no photos were allowed until we had our bibs on.

We asked her what we should see and do while we were there for the day. She directed us to the lighthouse which we could see in the distance and to Ogunquit, Perkins Cove, and a walk called the Marginal Way. I must say, this area of Maine is spectacularly beautiful. It is home to the old grand hotels and million dollar homes.

We did not walk The Marginal Way because it was getting late in the afternoon and the temperature was beginning to drop. We walked around the shops at Perkins Cove while sipping hot apple cider. I found the cutest sweaters to take home to Our Little Princesses. Here they are trying them on for the first time.

On the way back to the resort, we saw some beautiful autumnal decorations, huge pumpkins, and a gorgeous sunset over the mountains.

We only saw a tiny corner of Maine, but it was really beautiful. I think we're going to plan a trip to Maine in the next few years. I've got to say, I could really love at least three of the seasons in New England. Winter is a whole different story.

Monday, October 29, 2012

New England Vacation Day Five

We are home from our vacation. For some reason on day five of our stay in New Hampshire, my laptop lost the ability to connect to the internet. There seemed to be some conflict with my laptop and the resort's wireless router. We could get online with Grandad's computer, with our smart phones, and with my Kindle Fire, but not with my laptop. Unfortunately, the photos were all on my laptop and I couldn't get them from here to there. That said, now that we're home and all my connectivity problems are behind me, I'm going to continue with our vacation story.

On Day Five, we visited the Enfield Shaker Museum in Enfield, New Hampshire. I have heard of the Shakers for many years and we were already familiar with Shaker-style furniture. But, only a few minutes after arriving, we realized that we really knew nothing at all about the Shakers and their lives.

The Museum is located in the Great Stone Dwelling, which is the largest Shaker dwelling house ever constructed. We started with a short film about the Shakers and were then taken on a guided tour by a museum staff member who was very knowledgeable and clearly loved to tell the story of the Shakers.

The Shakers were a communal group who practiced equality of the sexes and races, celibacy, pacifism and communal ownership of property. They are widely believed to be the most successful communal group ever.

I was interested to learn that they did not believe in God as the Trinity. They believed that since God created man and woman in his image, God was two-parts, man and woman. They did not recognize Jesus as part of the Trinity, but they recognized him as God's human son. They believed that Ann Lee, who founded the Shakers, was God's human daughter.

They were called Shakers because they believed that they could "shake off sin" by spinning and dancing in their worship. Men and women lived separately but equally. Woman were full partners in both preaching and worship. There was no marriage and no children were born. The sect grew through recruiting new members and through taking in orphans and raising them in the Shaker way. When families joined the Shakers, the children lived apart from their parents and only saw them on Sundays. When the children became adults, they chose whether to become Shakers or go back into the world. After the Civil War, the Shakers took in orphans in hopes of increasing their numbers.

The work that the Shakers did became their offering to God, so they believed that it had to be perfect to the best of their ability. The tools that they used to make brooms are on display. The women gardened, cleaned, cooked, and sewed. The men made brooms, built furniture, worked as carpenters, and farmed, among other things. It's also interesting to note that the Shakers pioneered the modern seed business.

We spent several hours walking among the buildings in the land that the Shakers called the "Chosen Vale." The Shakers once farmed 3,000 acres of land in this beautiful valley. They educated their children in model schools, and worshiped in "The Shaker Way." Sadly, there are only four Shakers remaining today and the sect will likely vanish from the earth when they die.

The Shakers moved away from Enfield in the 1923 because their numbers had declined to the point that they could no longer sustain the community. It sat idle for four years before it was purchased by the La Salette Order of the Catholic Church. The La Salette Missionaries used the property for a seminary and, with the help of a generous benefactress, constructed a beautiful chapel right next to the Great Dwelling House. I must say, the austerity of style that the Shakers built creates an interesting juxtaposition next to the ornate architecture of the Catholic church.

Unfortunately, the number of seminarians also began to decline and the seminary closed its doors in 1974. The church has been de-consecrated and you can go in, wander around, and take pictures. Today, the church is occasionally used for weddings. It still contains a beautiful pipe organ and the stained-glass windows are exquisite.

We went back to the gift shop in the Great Stone Dwelling where I bought one of the few souvenirs of the trip, I treated myself to a beautiful Shaker-style pin cushion, made by a local artisan.

We asked the ladies who staffed the museum to recommend a nearby place for lunch, They sent us across Lake Mascoma into Enfield to Mickey's Roadside Cafe where we enjoyed really good lunch. I had seafood chowder and Grandad had clam chowder with half a tuna sandwich. After lunch we drove through the town which was decorated with scarecrows everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. There were scarecrows in front of the churches, the police station, on porches, in front of businesses, and even on both ends of the bridge.

While at Mickey's we asked the waitress if there was anything else we should see in the area. She suggested a visit to Quechee Gorge, which is known as Vermont's Little Grand Canyon. So, we made that our next destination.

The best view of the gorge is obtained by walking across a bridge on Highway 4. The bridge is 164 feet above the  Ottauquechee River. As you stand on the bridge, you can feel the vibration of the bridge as cars pass. Let me just say that I walked across the bridge to take pictures, Grandad did not. He suffers from acrophobia which means, he really struggles with high places. He was, however, game for a hike along the trail that leads back to the dam. It's less than a mile round trip and was a pretty easy trail.

After the hike, we stopped at Quechee Gorge Village. The Village is basically a shopping center featuring all sorts of souvenirs, antiques, wine, toys, pewter, candy, and cheese. There is also a toy and train museum. For Grandad, cheese was the main attraction. They had samples, lots and lots of samples. We both had a few samples, then I left, went to the ladies' room, shopped a little and came back. Grandad was still sampling cheese when I got back. I've been teasing him that after we left they probably put up a photo of him with a notice that he's not allowed to come back. The man ate a lot of free cheese.

By this time, it was getting late so we headed back to our condo. Tomorrow, we're driving to the coast. I need to eat some lobster while we're in New England.

Monday, October 22, 2012

New England Vacation Day Four

Today we went to Vermont. On the advice of a couple of other guests of the resort, we went in search of The Vermont Country Store. It was fun, we bought candy and maple syrup and a few other things. Then we went in search of an apple orchard, specifically an apple orchard with apple cider donuts.  In the process of searching, we found the most delightful and beautiful little towns. We visited Chester, Rockingham, Westchester, and Bellows Falls in Vermont and we visited Walpole, New Hampshire. They were all along the banks of the Connecticut River and were so beautiful and picturesque. Many of were founded in the Revolutionary War era. The sun was bright and I got sunspots in many of my photos, but it's too beautiful not to show you.

We finally had to stop at a gas station and ask for directions to an orchard. (Did I mention that there are NO billboards in Vermont or New Hampshire.) The young lady we asked was very helpful and directed us straight to a beautiful orchard. Apple picking season is over, but they had a few apples for sale, along with pumpkins and gourds. We stopped at Alyson's Orchard in Walpole, VT. The people there were friendly and directed us to a place where we could get apple cider donuts. We followed her directions to Allen Brothers Farms and Orchards Bakery. They did indeed have fresh apple cider donuts, which I give two thumbs up. They also had all kinds of fresh baked bread and a deli with sandwiches, soups, and salads. We ate lunch there and brought the leftovers back to the condo for dinner.

The vista from Alyson's Orchard was nothing short of spectacular. We also stopped in Putney, VT at a place called Basketville. It's inside of a large barn and has all kinds of things for the home. I bought a Christmas ornament, Grandad bought a cap, and we indulged in a wine tasting which from Putney Mountain Winery which is conveniently located inside Basketville. We bought a bottle of Rhubarb Blush and a bottle of Vermont Cassis. I'm not sure how we're going to get them home on an airplane, but we'll figure something out.

Yesterday I told you that I was falling in love with New Hampshire a little at a time. Today can tell you that I'm head-over-heals for Vermont. I can't wait to see what we find the rest of the week.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New England Vacation Days Two and Three

Every day, a little bit at a time, I'm falling in love with New Hampshire. Before this trip, I've only known New Hampshire for its first in the national presidential primary and its prominent roll every four years in the national election of our president.

Before planning this trip, I knew very little of the natural beauty and friendly people I would encounter here. I also didn't know that, like Texas, they have no state income tax, and, unlike Texas, the have no state sales tax. Awesome!

Yesterday we took the Fall Foliage Special on the Winnipesaukee Railroad. It was a four hour scenic trip from Meredith to Plymouth which included lunch at The Common Man Inn. The train passed Lake Waukewan and Lake Winona and followed along and over the Pemigewasset River from Ashland to Plymouth. On the return trip we stopped at Ashland Station. The station has been restored by local volunteers who were there to greet us in period costume. Ashland is on Squam Lake, better known to movie goers as "On Golden Pond."

The buffet included squash soup, turkey and sage dressing with cranberry sauce, meat lasagna, garlic mashed potatoes, and acorn squash with assorted cookies and brownies for dessert. It was very good. I especially enjoyed the turkey and dressing.

Besides the beautiful foliage, the best part was meeting new people. We met a mother and daughter from Massachusetts, and four very delightful gentlemen from Providence, Rhode Island. They were our dining partners at the restaurant. Two of the men from Rhode Island are retired teachers who now run a theater in Providence. We had the best time discussing Broadway and upcoming shows. I told them not to be surprised if we show up at their theater in a couple of years.

Today we drove across the state to Franconia Notch State Park where we hiked The Flume Gorge. To describe Flume Gorge as breathtaking is an understatement of epic proportions. It's spectacularly beautiful.

Here's what the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation says about Flume Gorge:
The Flume is a natural gorge extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. The walls of Conway granite rise to a height of 70 to 90 feet and are 12 to 20 feet apart. A trip into the Flume begins and ends at the Flume Visitor's Center. Guests can choose to walk through just the Gorge or do a two mile loop. The walk includes uphill walking and lots of stairs. The boardwalk allows you to look closely at the growth of flowers, ferns and mosses found here. 

Framed by a spectacular vista of Mount Liberty and Mount Flume, the Visitor Center houses the Flume ticket office, information center, cafeteria, gift shop, and the state park system's historic Concord Coach. A 20-minute movie showcasing beautiful Franconia Notch State Park is available for viewing.

The Flume was discovered in 1808 by 93-year-old  “Aunt” Jess Guernsey when she accidently came upon it while fishing. She had trouble convincing her family of the marvelous discovery, but eventually persuaded others to come and see for themselves. At that time, a huge egg-shaped boulder hung suspended between the walls. The rock was 10 feet (3m) high and 12 feet (3.6m) long. A heavy rainstorm in June of 1883 started a landslide that swept the boulder from its place. It has never been found. The same storm deepened the gorge and formed Avalanche Falls.
I'm not going to lie to you, climbing up and down this gorge was challenging for both Grandad and Grams. When you factor in the medical problems that we've both overcome in the past six years, it's nothing short of amazing that we were able to do it. It was a lot of effort and I think we're going to hurt a little tomorrow, but it was so worthwhile. I've never seen anything like it before. It has now been added to the list of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Today was the last day of the 2012 season for Flume Gorge. We got in just under the wire. But, if you can get to New Hampshire next year, I highly recommend a trip to Flume Gorge. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for children ages 5 to 12, and children under 5 are free.

On our itinerary for tomorrow is a trip to Vermont. We're going to visit The Vermont Country Store, look for an apple orchard, and seek out and, hopefully, eat some apple cider donuts.

Friday, October 19, 2012

New England Vacation Days Zero and One

I flew from San Antonio to Boston yesterday to join my husband, who has been hear since Monday. That means I drove from Corpus Christi to San Antonio on Wednesday and spent the night with Katy, Travis, and Our Little Princesses. I got to go with Katy to pick the girls up at school/day care, one of my favorite things to do.  As soon as they saw us coming, they both came running and threw their arms around my knees.

At home, we sat on the floor of the play room and played with all their toys. Then, while I de-boned a chicken for the Arroz con Pollo Katy was making, they played nearby. Truthfully, they played under the table. I could hear them giggling and laughing. It was quite entertaining for me and they thought it was hilarious.

Our Little Princesses under the table laughing.
Katy took me to the airport at 6:15 yesterday morning for my 8 a.m. flight. It was truly above and beyond the call of duty. She dropped me off, went home, got the girls dressed and fed, then dropped them off at school, and got herself to a sales meeting around 8 o'clock.

I walked for what seemed like miles from one gate to another at Chicago's Midway Airport. I grabbed a quick lunch there and made it to my connecting flight on time. I flew Southwest Airlines because we are Rapid Rewards members so my trip was free. One of the things I really like about Southwest is that they are still small and personal in a lot of ways. We were boarded and ready to leave Chicago, but there were five passengers who were late from connecting flights. They actually held the flight about twenty minutes to give them time to make their connections. On other occasions, I have been one of the passengers for whom flights have been delayed. It's a wonderful thing that they help make connections that way. We still arrived within ten minutes of our scheduled arrival time in Boston.

We stayed last night at the Hilton Woburn/Boston. It is where Grandad stays when he travels to Boston on business because it's near the company's training center. Since it's out in the suburbs, it's usually a very nice and quiet hotel. However, last night there was a large group of high school kids from Connecticut staying there. By large, I mean three busloads. Unfortunately, they were largely unsupervised. The adults who were traveling with them had obviously already retired to their rooms. The kids were running up and down the hallways, screaming and laughing, and generally being kids.

The noise level dropped sometime around 11 p.m. and we went to sleep. Then at 12:30 a.m. we were awakened by the fire alarm and screaming teenagers. I opened the door, looked out into the hallway, and went back into the room. A few minutes later we were told to evacuate the building. Temperatures in the 40s, drizzle falling, and all of us in the parking lot in the middle of the night in our pajamas. We were on the fourth floor, so we had to walk down four flights of stairs. Not too bad for either of us, but a very difficult task for a couple of elderly people who could only walk with assistance, who were on the same floor. The fire department came, inspected the building, and let us all go back inside. Surprisingly I was back asleep within just a few minutes.

This morning, we found a note of apology from the hotel explaining that it had not been an actual emergency. Apparently, some of the unsupervised kids pulled the fire alarm.

We woke up this morning to a rainy day. After breakfast, we made our favorite morning stop for coffee at Starbucks.

After that, we drove northwest from Boston into New Hampshire. The fall foliage is beautiful. Since it was raining, we didn't stop anywhere. All of these photos were taken from our moving car.

I do have one question, what is with the New Hampshire State Liquor Stores. We don't have those in Texas, but I do think it's very convenient that you can by your booze and your lottery tickets at the same place right at the state line.

Since we didn't stop along the way, we got to our resort way before check-in time so we drove on into Newport to look for a grocery store and a place to eat lunch. We chose Village Pizza which has a menu including pizza, calzones, burgers, grinders, pasta, and salads. I had a small hamburger and Grandad had a Cheeseburger Grinder. My hamburger came with french fries. The burger had a homemade patty and was topped with mozzarella cheese and fresh lettuce, and tomatoes. The french fries were awesome; perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Grandad said his grinder was very good too. Village Pizza is located at 7 South Main Street, Newport, NH. Somehow I failed to take a picture of Village Pizza, but the view from their front window was lovely.

View from Village Pizza
After we picked up a few groceries, we went to the resort to see if we could check in a little early. They were very welcoming and let us into our condo right away. The resort is beautiful and small. The rooms are spotlessly clean and beautifully appointed. Since it was raining, we watched television for a while. Then we spent a little time in the pool and hot tub this afternoon. I will take some photos sometimes in the next few days.

We came back to the room and I made "deconstructed chicken pot pie" for dinner. It was deconstructed because there is no oven in the condo. I cooked the filling on the stove top. Then I sliced the pie crust into small pieces and browned them in a skillet. It was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

Tomorrow, we have tickets to ride the Fall Foliage Special from Meredith to Plymouth. It's a four-hour round trip train ride with lunch at the Common Man Inn in Plymouth. 

We've already met some nice people here at the resort. A couple from Long Island, New York gave us some recommendations for places to visit in Vermont. Two ladies from Boston also gave us some suggestions for things we should see and do in the area. 

This is one of the vacations I've wanted to take for many years. It's one of the items I'll be checking off my imaginary bucket list. Hopefully, I'll be able to get some good pictures of the foliage tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'm hoping for a peaceful night's sleep tonight. 

What trip is on your real or imaginary bucket list?

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