Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gillette Castle

In my research about sweet things about Connecticut, I found this:

And immediately it landed on my "must check out" list. We learned that Gillette Castle was designed by an actor named William Gillette- a somewhat eccentric guy who was famous for adapting Sherlock Holmes to the Stage. He had no wife or kids, so in his will, rather than determining who it should go to he just precluded the possession of his castle by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded." So naturally, the state took it over and it became a state park (he did preclude only the singular of "sap-head"). 

It was built in 1914 (and designed to look weathered and old) and has a number of funky unique features that make it totally awesome. For example:
See all those cool designs on the door? That's the latch. You lift the handle and it does all kinds of crazy moving to open the door... and each door was totally unique. This one also is custom-shaped for the couch that's next to it. 

The staircase. Surprisingly, the whole structure is built with steel, and then the wood and stone are just applied amazingly on top of that. I was really surprised at his decorating skills... you know, for an eccentric guy. The style was mostly stone and wood, and then (as you can see above the couch) there are designs in straw to add a softer texture, without straying from the "natural beauty" of it.  

Do you see the guy in blue standing in the upper left corner? From there, you can see hidden mirrors that allowed Gillette to see what visitors were doing in other parts of the house, like who was coming in the entryway below him so he could decide if it was worth making a grand entrance. 

A balcony with a view: the Connecticut River. The next picture was taken by looking up. 

Each light fixture was also totally unique and really cool. 

And that's what I call a proper picnic pavilion (had signs on it that said, "do not use as shelter in a thunderstorm"... and I thought to myself, that's good to know).

So while we were inside a thunderstorm rolled in. From the third-story windows we got to watch the rain pouring and lightning striking all around us like in a scary movie, which was pretty impressive. Rather than make a run for the car (or seek shelter in the forbidden pavilion) we decided to stick it out and wait the 20 minutes for it to pass. It didn't even take that long, and then suddenly the sun was out and the only difference was 3 inches of water in all low places. 

Wes thought the castle was pretty cool- he may have convinced us that we should live in one someday. I forgot to mention that we also brought along my brother and his family who live under an hour away- and had no idea how sweet this thing was (sometimes it takes being a tourist to get out and explore).

Friday, July 26, 2013

Niagara Falls, Canada... and Vermont

As we were packing for this whole adventure way back in May, my totally prepared Eagle Scout of a husband thought it would probably be a good idea to bring our passports. We had no plans at the time to use them, except we thought that if we did make it up to Niagara Falls we might maybe feel like going over into Canada.

According to our research just prior to starting the drive last weekend, "From the Canadian side you can SEE the falls, on the American side you can FEEL the falls." Gotcha, can't see nothin' on the American side. So we went to Canada. The border patrol asked us how long we were staying, and we answered, "about 3 hours." I'm pretty sure we didn't make it more than 25 yards from the border at any point- just drove the little frontage road, parked, and walked right over.  

Wes checkin out the "sHuge" waterfall. He's totally drenched from the mist, although it was a perfectly pleasant day.

American falls (only really viewable from the Canadian side... otherwise you're looking from the top-down, which is lame).

Horseshoe Falls.

The whole of Horseshoe falls. We started walking down the boardwalk just above the falls and kept going because I wanted to get the whole falls in the shot, but it's so big we ended up walking quite a ways. In Cam's word Niagara was one tourist site "that was not overrated." It was very beautiful and very impressive.

We had a picnic at the park just above the falls, and then popped back in the car at 1pm (didn't want to have lied about that 3 hours) and headed back to Connecticut. Well, via Vermont which is the one state in New England we hadn't been to yet, and I was not about to leave a hole in the map. Besides, it was practically on the way (read: only an additional 2 hours). 

Vermont was so kind as to have a cute little town called Bennington right in the bottom corner of the state so that we could actually see something with only minor inconvenience. Bennington has several of these cute little covered bridges that we checked out before saying goodbye to Vermont and getting back on the road. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

In which we procure a place to sleep

This post is a continuation of our Upstate NY weekend adventure. So to continue...

A couple months ago when we first started thinking about making the trip out to the pageant, and realized it was going to get over around 10:30 we started to look for a hotel right in the area. There were none available. Any hotel for over an hour back in the direction of our house was booked.

So on the Wednesday before, when Cam managed to get Friday off, we changed our plans and decided we would take off in the other direction, towards Niagara Falls after the pageant. I found a hotel that had one room available just 30 minutes away (I will not be disclosing the name of the hotel - I'll explain why later, but I can assure you it was a reputable establishment).

As I mentioned earlier, Wes crashed around 10, the pageant ended at 10:30 so Cam carried him to the car and he slept on the way to the hotel. Cam ran inside and checked us in, and then I carried the pack-and-play and Cam carried Wes up to our room. I stuck the key in, and the door wouldn't open. So I left Cam holding a sleeping Wes in the hallway, and sped down the long hall and down the elevator to the front desk.

There was no one at the front desk when I got there, just two somewhat disheveled elderly women in character pajamas sitting in the lobby. They told me I'd have to yell back there for Margaret because she was doing dishes and probably wouldn't be able to hear me. I yelled for Margaret, got a "hold on honey"... and after a few minutes Margaret wandered out. I explained that our key didn't work, so she ran it through her machine and set me back up  the elevator and down the long hallway.

Cam was still standing there holding a sleeping Wes. The key still didn't work.

I sped back down to the front desk again. I yelled for Margaret who was confused that I was back, as were the two elderly women who were somewhat flustered on my behalf. Margaret thought that perhaps it was the key not working, and got me a new one and ran it though her machine. She sent me back up and let me know that if there were any more problems to look for her in the laundry room because that's where she'd be.

Cam was still standing there holding a sleeping Wes. The key still didn't work.

I speed-waddled my way back down the hall (hey- at this point I'd had a long day and I'm now 7 months along with a baby who reduces my lung capacity by about half). I found the laundry room and a flustered Margaret. At this point I learned that she was actually only the laundry and dish lady... and since there is no desk person after 11PM it's her job to give people keys that come after hours. At this point she came with me up the elevator.

Cam was sitting on the floor holding a sleeping Wes with his elbow propped up on the pack-and-play. Margaret put in her key, which still didn't work. Then from inside the room we heard a lady say "Excuse Me!" Margaret gave us an open-eyed open-mouthed look of shock and replied with an apology. Cam remained sitting. Margaret and I huffed and puffed downstairs the whole time Margaret was nervous-talking about how she's just the laundry lady.

Back in the lobby Margaret pulled out the list of room occupants that the last desk person had printed for Margaret before she left, and we were in fact supposed to be in that room. Poor Margaret was so confused and kept saying how they told her the hotel was full and someone else should not be in that room because that was the only one they had. She tried to call a few people who worked at the desk and the room itself but kept getting a busy line (as Cam mentioned later, from outside the room he could hear the very upset lady inside trying to call the lobby and everyone else she could think of that someone was trying to get in her room).

At that point Margaret was pretty ready to resign that there was no room for us. As it was midnight... well, that wasn't an option I was going to stand for. I tried to reason with Margaret that even if they said the hotel was full, that if we were on the list then there must be a room empty somewhere... we just needed to go back upstairs and ask the name of the lady in there and find out what room she should be in, because that one was probably empty.

It took a lot of convincing. But finally we got to go back upstairs to Cam taking a little nap in the hall holding a sleeping Wes (he mentioned that at one point someone had come by and asked if he was okay). Margaret started yelling to the lady through the door since there was no way she was coming out. She asked all kinds of questions that weren't useful like when she checked in and kept repeating she shouldn't be in that room. Finally I convinced her to ask the last name. Margaret had brought her list up, but not her reading glasses so she handed it to me to find the name. It was the room across the hall.

She used her key, and the door opened and the room was empty. Margaret then went over to tell the lady she needed to move into the right room, and we had to convince her that it would be okay if she stayed and we would just take the open room. It was well after midnight.

We checked out the next morning and went on our way without further issue. In fact, Wes thought the hotel was great because it played Elmo on the TV the next morning.

I called the hotel customer service line on Monday to let them know that, as I had seen their list, I was aware that the lady across the hall had paid somewhat less to reserve our room than we had to reserve hers, and I was hoping they could remedy that for me. The customer service lady was so appalled at the whole story that she gave us half our money back... which was enough to buy my silence about the name of the reputable establishment in question in this whole event.

(Next up: the last installment of our Upstate Tour: Niagara Falls, Canada... and Vermont)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Upstate History Sites

Early on this summer we realized that we were going to be here in New England during the Hill Cumorah Pageant, a realization that I don't expect to have again in my life... at least with so little planning and inconvenience.

We had a tight-shipped plan of how we were going to make the 13 hour roundtrip to the pagaent, Niagara Falls, and some of the big Mormon Church historical sites on a weekend. Then Cam managed to weasel his way out of work on Friday as well, which turned out to be both nice and totally necessary.

We left in the morning, and Wes sang to himself for a large majority of the first 4 hours, and then crashed and we enjoyed a little quiet on our scenic drive around the finger lakes to the Peter Whitmer Farm. Which was... amazingly small. I had completely forgotten how many events happened there, such as the organization of the LDS Church, and most of the translation of the Book of Mormon... which is really a disproportionate number of historically awesome things per square footage.

We then were able to go to the Sacred Grove, which was really beautiful. We tried to explain to Wes it's importance, but he was mostly interested in the number of sweet sticks on the ground.

Token family picture to prove I was there. This is at the Cooper's Shop at the Smith Family Farm outside Palmyra, NY.

Wes has a bit of an obsession with benches? We often have to stop just to experience sitting on them. And usually we have to stop again at the next one. Sometimes I have to refrain from getting grumpy at the thoughtful person who thought that yet ANOTHER bench was necessary.

 The Grandin Printing shop in Palmayra, New York is where the Book of Mormon was first published. It was fabulously colored, and it was really cool to see the old printing process. It's a wonder to me that people put in so much time and effort to get a book printed that way.

And at last- we got to the pageant 3 hours before start time to get good seats (we did, halfway back in the chairs on the aisle, behind a short lady and her preteen son). Wes holding the program in this picture was totally unplanned:

The stage at sunset.
The pageant itself was really very cool! We didn't expect such cool special effects all around quality from an outdoor show. The Pageant follows the basic story of the Book of Mormon and the role that Christ plays in it... with a few musical numbers (which makes it every way unlike the Book of Mormon broadway show except that I hear it also includes musical numbers). Wes absolutely loved everything about the show, right up until he crashed an hour into it because, well, it was 2 hours after his bedtime.

Bedtime gets a post of it's own coming up next....

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Trip in a Trip

As if we didn't have enough adventures/flights/homeless-vagabondness already this summer, we just got back from a trip to Utah in the middle of out trip out here in Connecticut. Cameron's brother was getting married, and we weren't about to miss it even if it was over Wesley's birthday. 

Due to Wesley's landmark birthday of no longer being a lap-child, Wes and I flew out midweek BEFORE his birthday so that we only had to pay for him one-way, and Cam joined us for the weekend. Luckily I have a superstar-champion flyer at this point who took a 3 hour nap on the flight! 

Since we were in Utah for Wesley's Birthday, he got to have another little birthday party that Aunt Kaylie threw him (more cake, and watermelon this time! Still two candles.)

 We went to the wedding altogether on Saturday which was fabulous, albeit ridiculously hot. Wes was a bit of a stinker since he was hot and it was naptime, and refused to be in a picture with all the other kids... this was snapped right after he screamed his way out of the shot. Looks like he got what he wanted.

 He loved the reception though, which was beautiful. His favorite part was the dance floor, which is fitting, because that was Cameron's as well.

Seriously though... the only reason this kid got off the dance floor at the end was that they drove a tractor up to pick up the chairs and put them away durning clean-up, and we needed to go check it out. Otherwise we'd have been there all night. 
(In case you can't tell, my child is the one crowdsurfing, side-stepping, bouncing, and showing off his breakdance moves in the following clips. My husband is the one instigating his son's unsafe aeronautics, and teaching him the breakdance moves.)

Oh yeah, and I can't forget to mention the fun Invitation that I got to design! How cute are these guys?