Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

“...OUR PLAIN DUTY...”

This simple but poignant quote was made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a message to Congress in which he lobbied for the passage of the Social Security Act. He regarded this achievement as the cornerstone of his administration and the domestic issue in which he took the most pride. This topic was the focus of a special exhibit housed at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum located in Hyde Park, New York in honor of its’ 75th anniversary.

Betsy and I both remarked that we were not familiar with the history of establishing the act. We just know that we get money for retirement, we pay into it during our working years, and it will be gone by the time I retire.

Prior to the act, almost half of America’s senior citizens could not support themselves and poverty was in the millions. Elderly worked until they physically couldn’t or were fired. They relied on charity from paltry state run programs, family, or charities. But in the midst of the Great Depression, charity was hard to come by as one in four workers were unemployed.

Early momentum for such a plan began with Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long and Francis Townsend, an unemployed doctor. Long proposed the “Share Our Wealth” program in which he believed taxing the rich would provide a funding source for pensions and guaranteed income for everyone. Townsend devised the “Old Age Revolving Pension Plan” in which he proposed the federal government would provide a $200 monthly pension to every person age 60 and older. Townsend’s plan spread quickly and gained strong momentum.

Roosevelt supported government-sponsored old age, unemployment, and health insurance. The hope was that this movement would stimulate economic spending, and alleviate the immediate hunger and joblessness crises. But while he delayed acting on the idea, he was pushed by his Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins (the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet) and a bill went to Congress in 1935. Significant changes were made to the bill and it was scaled to exclude many large labor categories including farm and domestic workers. While the bill did not include everything the president wanted, it was signed into law on August 14, 1935, and marked a major achievement of his presidency. Since the initial signing the law has changed to offer more benefits.

Seventy-five years after its creation, Social Security is welcomed, controversial, and debated. Social Security is the largest social program in the United States providing benefits to over 52 million Americans. This represents over 20 percent of all government spending - the largest single item in the federal budget. The long-term financial viability has been questioned and without action the Social Security Trust Funds will vanish in 2037. According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security will continue after 2037 but will be mostly supported through payroll taxes and not the Trust Fund. What remains to happen with Social Security is unclear and it remains to be seen if it is still “our plain duty.”

Since we did not feel our readers would want to see pictures of our social security cards, we decided to include pictures taken at the Presidential Library and Museum instead.

Roosevelt grew up in Hyde Park, NY and loved the area so much he frequented the
area often throughout his life.

Although not a great athlete, Roosevelt took up the game of golf at boarding school.
 He excelled and later taught his sons to play.

This scale model is of a early 19th century Dutch man-of-war.
Queen Juliana once told Roosevelt, before she was Queen, that when the Nazi were driven out of
the Netherlands, she would send him the finest model ship she could find.  Unfortunately, Roosevelt
never saw the ship because he died in 1945, but, as a fulfillment of her promise the Queen
presented the ship to the Presidential Library and Museum.  Sailing was one of Roosevelt's loves, so
much so that he used to ice sail during the winter. 
 In Roosevelt's study is a portrait of his mother (far left) and one of his custom built
wheelchairs complete with an ashtray (in the forefront).  Roosevelt's mother was not keen on the idea of
him marrying Eleanor.  Not because she did not like her, but because she wanted him to herself.  He was an only child.
An exhibit in the museum showing Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act.  Labor Secretary
Frances Perkins is over his left shoulder.
Grave sites of F.D.R and Eleanor surrounded by roses.
This is the Nation's first Presidential Library and the only one actually used by a President while in office.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fond Memories of Mystic, Connecticut

The first time I visited Mystic, I was 6 years old. The year was 1976, the country’s bicentennial, and my family took the quintessential 1970’s family vacation. Dad and Mom loaded the sailboat (a small sunfish-type boat) on top of the “grocery getter” (a wood-paneled Town and Country station wagon), piled the three kids in the backseat, and swung by grandma’s house to pick her up. There we all went to Cape Cod, Massachusetts with a stop in Mystic on the way. I have fond memories of the trip – seeing the tall ships decorated in the stars and stripes for the bicentennial, jumping over sand dunes on the Cape, and being saved by Dad from the hungry jaws of a sand shark as I was about to get out of the sailboat. O.k. so maybe small sharks do seem bigger when you are six!


Eagle under sail.
I remember visiting the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle on this trip and, to this day, love to tour it whenever possible. The 295-foot Eagle is America’s only tall ship. Ironically, the ship that trains our “coasties” was built in Germany in 1936 and was one of three sail-training ships operated by the pre-World War II German Navy. The U.S. took possession of the ship at the close of the war as war reparation. She was re-commissioned as the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle and has been stationed in New London, CT ever since. When I was contemplating what college to attend, I was interested in the academy. My mom was quick to point out that maybe military service was not the right choice for me because; as she put it to me bluntly, I don’t follow orders very well and prefer giving them rather than receiving them. I also made the realization that my grades were probably not sufficient to be admitted to such a prestigious place of higher learning. An honest assessment on both our parts. I never did join the Coast Guard.

One morning Betsy and I decided to make the short drive to New London and visit the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. We were sorely disappointed when we arrived at the academy only to learn that the museum was closed because the curator was not there and no one else could let us in. We drove through the campus which seemed quite sterile and bland compared to the U.S. Naval Academy. The town of New London is far more industrial and less charming than Mystic so we decided to head back.
We were easily able to occupy ourselves for four days in and around Mystic. There are casinos, shopping, beaches, museums and galleries, the CT wine trail, boating, and great dinning. The Mystic Aquarium has wonderful indoor and outdoor exhibits with the highlight being the largest outdoor beluga whale exhibit in the U.S.

Black-footed penguin at the aquarium.

The belugas captivate children
as well as adults.
 A short drive from the aquarium is the village of Mystic Seaport the Museum of America and the Sea. This waterfront facility is a re-creation of a 19th century coastal village. The streets are lined with more than 30 authentic 1800’s trade shops and businesses that were brought to the site from towns throughout New England. Docked along the harbor are wooden sailing ships available for touring (including “The Amistad” slave ship) and short cruises. Currently, the seaport is undergoing renovation of the only surviving wooden whaling ship in the world. The monumental 10 million dollar project is on-display and visitors can board the ship during the restoration or watch the sawmill in action from a viewing area. Mystic Seaport is a “must-see” and one could easily spend a full-day there. We spent our final half hour in their bookstore which has an extensive selection of maritime books. With a book on Ernest Shackleton’s expedition on the Nimrod in hand, we departed the seaport and headed for a lobster pound.

Mystic seaportt village.


Tugs are one type of boat
on display at Mystic Seaport.


An old oyster processing house.
An exhibit on figureheads that decorate the bow of
ships.















Needless to point out for everyone who knows Betsy, she is a real “lobstaholic”! In fact we found a t-shirt with that on it and she has been wearing it proudly as she is eating lobster. Mystic was our first exposure on this adventure to New England steamer clams and lobster to buy in lobster pounds or in restaurants. So far, not a day has not gone by that she hasn’t eaten either one. They are cheap here and we have been buying them and cooking them at our campsite. It’s so much fun to be outside eating lobsters and steamers.

Only a true "lobstaholic" wears this t-shirt!

More photos from Mystic Seaport....

The last surviving wooden whaling ship in the U.S. getting a make-over.

All pieces and parts of the ship are fabricated onsite, including the wooden pegs that will
hold the planks in place.

Six different species of wood are used in the restoration.


Above the sawmill, are exhibits that explain the restoration process and causes of deterioration
of the ship.


Downtown Mystic.

The park and waterfront in downtown Mystic.

Look what we found for dinner!

Yummy and cheap.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Let’s Be Honest…..

O.k., so not all things on this trip are rosy! Most of the time, things are great and go according to plan, but, not always. We get lost, our neighbors walk around in their underwear in plain sight, the park manager is a registered sex offender, our campsite is not level, the weather is not 75 degrees and sunny, and the museum is a bust.

There are two campsites in this picture.  Neither of which were level enough for us to use.
Betsy did some fancy driving and avoided hitting two electrical boxes, two sewer hookups, 
cable boxes, and a picnic table.  Finally, we were level.
While in Pennsylvania, we had rain for over a week so inside activities were a must. Low and behold the little town of Easton looked like a promising place for us to entertain ourselves for an afternoon. Easton was home to Crayola, the birthplace of Crayons, and the National Canal Museum. We grabbed the camera and headed to town. A beautiful drive (albeit in the rain) led us to a charming little downtown. The square downtown center was the frame for a beautiful "Soldiers and Sailors Monument" honoring Easton's veterans. The Crayola Experience was downtown and the Canal Museum was next door. How convenient.

The Crayola Experience.
We walked inside and told the girl at the ticket counter we would like two tickets for the combination Crayola and Canal Museum. She looked puzzled and asked if we were with a school group. After we said no, she began to explain that this was not the Crayola factory. Instead, it was an activity center. Yes, there were some vintage boxes of crayons, a few exhibits, and a 15-minute demonstration on how Crayons and markers are made, but this was not the actual factory. Before we saw the complete mayhem and rush of kids running full-speed brandishing crayons, she offered us a dollar discount and took my credit card. To her defense, she tried to warn us. We did not heed the warning and paid the price (not just with the credit card). She handed us a map, three tokens (for free crayons and markers) and flashed us a worried look as she said, “have fun!”

If you are looking for a place for your kids to run free with markers, draw on walls, bounce from room to room, climb on things, and scream at the top of their lungs….go to the Crayola Experience. This place really confirmed my decision not to have kids. The few exhibits that explained the history of Crayola were interesting and the nice thing was that nobody else was looking at them. The 15-minute crayon making demonstration was informative and now we have a better understanding of how colored wax turns into a crayon. We felt sorry for the young man who was trying to explain the crayon making process while kids were sword fighting with crayons, crying, and coloring body parts with markers.
Chaos!
There are over 1,200 crayons in the tray he is holding.

The Crayola name was coined by the founders wife.  It comes from "craie" the French word
for "chalk" and "ola," for "oily."
We are not sure why the canal museum got the designation for being the national museum of its kind! The museum is more of a kid’s interactive playground than a serious museum. There is a large canal boat for them to climb in, ropes for them to pull, a tiller for steering, and small scale canal complete with water, boats, and locks.
Exhibits inside the National
Canal Museum.

A "canal horse" that was used to pull boats along
the canals.  The "do not climb on horse" sign
was largely ignored.












The only hope for salvaging this day was lunch. Luckily, there was a nearby restaurant that had 20 beers on tap. Pearly Bakers Ale House was our salvation. A delicious lunch accompanied by cold beer was the medicine that we needed to erase the last two hours. While sipping our local libation, we discovered a winery that was only a five minute diversion on our way home. We stopped in at the Franklin Hill Winery for a free tasting. After sipping our choice of six samples, we bought three bottles, and headed for home. The weather broke and blue sky popped out from the clouds just long enough for me to try my luck fishing in the Delaware River that bordered the campground. No, I did not bring home dinner from the river but at least there was wine.

The "Soldiers and Sailors Monument" in downtown Easton.
Franklin Hill Winery.
The "tasting room"  looked much better.
Vineyards of Franklin Hill.
The fish is only 2 inches longer than the lure.
Definitely not a "keeper."
View of the Delaware River from the campground.
Otter enjoying the cold river water.
Pearly Baker's Ale House.
 
Beautiful sight inside Pearly Baker's.








Friday, May 20, 2011

Music to My Ears

It has now been raining solid for a week and a half. Ok, so I am exaggerating….but when the rain is not falling from the sky, it is gray with 99% humidity, and we are covered in a fog blanket. Our rain coats are always by the door, shoes soaked, and the dog is always wet (mostly because she elects to run through the muddy puddles). We are in the foothills of the Poconos in Pennsylvania. We decided to come here for a few reasons. One, my Aunt and Uncle live here as does their daughter and her family. We are always happy to see them, get caught up, and share some laughs. Besides, my Aunt Linda promised us a trip to Jayne
We forgot to bring flowers but, obviously, someone else did.
Mansfield’s grave site, cool whip enchiladas (sounds strange but they were delicious), and cold beer. Second, we wanted to go to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area so we could enjoy some kayaking and hiking. Third, it was on our way. While we did get to visit with my family, we never made it to the Delaware Water Gap. The rain kept us away and we had to find other indoor activities.

It so happens that 25 minutes away was a guitar factory in the town of Nazareth (which is next to Bethlehem – go figure. Oh, and the town of Intercourse is not too far away. I’m not sure these all belong together). The C.F. Martin and Co. website promises free guided tours of the factory, a museum, and gift shop. Neither of us knows anything about guitars and has no idea how to play, but this sounded really fun. Little did we know that some of the biggest named stars and most revered guitar players choose Martin guitars, including Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Page, John Mayer, etc.


The company was started by Christian Frederic Martin in 1833. Martin was born in Germany and veered away from the family cabinet making business to apprentice with a renowned guitar maker. The family business is now run by a 6th generation Martin and has survived wars, a depression, financial ruin, and prosperity. Prices start in the $2,000 range and go up depending on the model and type of woods. The most expensive one listed in the catalog is over $109,000 for a limited edition constructed of Brazilian rosewood.

The factory tour lasts about an hour and takes you through the entire guitar making process. From selecting the raw wood to applying the final polish, you get to see all the steps. The tour starts by showing all the different types of wood that are used. Wood planks come into the saw mill and are cut and planed according to what part of the guitar they become (i.e., the neck, finger board, bracing, etc.) Different woods actually change the sound that is produced. What impressed us most about how these guitars are made is all the manual labor that goes into them. Most of the construction process is by hand and not a machine, including planning rough cut wood, applying inlays, sanding, and polishing. It takes 3-4 months and requires over 300 steps to complete one guitar.
The inside of the guitar is rimmed with a flexible piece of wood.  That wood will provide a base to
mount the back and front of the guitar onto.  Old fashion clothes pins are used to hold it on while the glue dries.

The makings of a guitar.

The "neck" of the guitar is hand cut.  Craftsmen use a gauge to get the measurements exact.

The necks are ready to be mounted after they are cut, sanded, lacquered, sanded again, and buffed. 

After the first coat of lacquer, guitars will be sanded again, then get another coat of lacquer.
This buffing stage is one of the few robotic segments in the factory
Final products getting their neck attached.
 
These guitars look good but are not quite finished.  They need a final buffing, strings,
inspection and to be tuned by a well-trained employee.
The museum houses over 200 rare and vintage instruments consisting of ukuleles, mandolins, banjos, and of course guitars. The exhibits are entertaining and informative and explain the history, craftsmanship, and influence of guitars throughout the years. Outside of the museum is a “picking parlor” where visitors can take their turn playing some of Martin’s high-end and limited edition models. Our one complaint was there was not more guitar music playing in the museum and lobby but you could buy CDs in the gift shop. This tour was one of the best tours that we have taken so far and we now know a lot more about guitars.


Vintage Hank William guitar made by Martin.

Founder C. F. Martin and one of the best selling Martin guitars.

Classic Martin guitars played by musical greats like Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton.

Martin original....the 1,000,001 guitar decorated with intricate pearl inlay. 

Up-close of the pearl inlay.

Pickin' and grinin'