Sunday, April 17, 2016

36 Hours in WMass

Spring Break 2016 is nearly over for us.  Today is the last day before school and we're home, playing videogames, lazing around, and enjoying a beautiful spring day.  From the couch.  Because the last day and a half were pretty packed with activities.

On Friday morning, we slept in, packed, and left for Northampton in the western corner of Massachusetts. It's a pretty and pretty easy drive north and would have been even prettier in almost any other season--spring isn't really here yet, so there's barely grass and the trees are still mainly skeletal brown.  At least there's no dirty snow anywhere.  And it's warm enough to go without a jacket in the sun.

Because of the timing, the first thing we did in this college town (home to Smith) was eat.  In fact, we ate somewhere the kids and I had eaten before--at Sylvester's, a breakfast and lunch place in an older building on one of the main drags.  It's where Gommie and I had gone with the kids and our minister many, many years ago, in 2009, when Mama was in Thailand.  Of course, the kids didn't remember it.  But it was as good as last time--clam chowder, chicken caesar salad, Irish eggs benedict (with corned beef hash), Cubano sandwich, and a bacon cheeseburger on a brioche.  And a delicious hot chocolate that Sis really enjoyed.  I hadn't realized last time that the building housed the original manufacturer of graham crackers, Dr. Sylvester Graham.  But I didn't notice any extra graham-y-ness on the menu.

The kids and I strolled the street as Mama drove a few blocks to the Hotel Northampton, a 1920s mainstay that is now an Historic Hotel of America.  We stopped at a yarn store and picked up a few skeins for a scarf.  And a felted wool sheep for Mama.  There was also a Newbury Comics store, but we didn't have time to stop because we had a few things to do before our big evening activity.

Rice Paper
Blue Morpho
Glass Wing
We went first to Magic Wings, which is a butterfly-arium--thousands of butterflies in a rainforest-like garden inside.  It was lovely, the largest one we've ever seen (including AMNH, Bronx Zoo, Norwalk Aquarium, Boston science museum.)  I do like being surrounded by butterflies.  And I "met" a few new ones--the lovely white wings with black detailing of the Rice Paper and the completely transparent and surprising wings of the Glass Wing.  There were also gorgeous Blue Morphos that flit around in indigo and violet luminescence.  But they rarely land and keep their wings open but for a split second.  So they are really hard to photograph.  And I tried.  Sis and Mama had more luck, even found a few sunning their wings open.  So, in the end, I did manage a few glorious photos.  None really landed on us this time, though, which disappoints Bud, but since they didn't land on any of us, it was ok.

Then we kicked off the warm-weather family putt-putt golf season!  And we started it with some actual time on the driving range.  Who knew hitting a ball with a driver could be so hard?  I don't think we were making contact more than 50% of the time!  But it was fun.  Putt putt was better, though, more our speed (and by "our," I mean "their"--I just watch.)  We had the course almost completely to ourselves and had fun comparing strokes to par.  I'd say they were mostly at par.  Sis even got two holes-in-one!

And then it was time to go to our Owl Prowl at a nature center in Canton, CT.  We got there early, but Mama had to rush out for flashlights (the lady on the phone had said not to bring anything; the leader of the group said we needed them.)  She missed our first foray outside, when we visited the habitats of the rescued owls and then actually saw at a distance of about 20 yards the silhouette of a Barred Owl in a tree.  We watched for a few minutes before it flew off.  Mama got back in time to hear the presentation on North American owls and we definitely needed the flashlights in the dark woods behind the center.  Our leader has perfected the Barred Owl call, something akin to "who cooks for you?" he said.  And one of the center's rescued Barred Owls responded (the leader could recognize the owl Harry's slightly warped call.)  But then a symphony arose as at least one wild owl if not more joined Harry in song.  Gorgeous.  And you could still hear it deep into the woods as we saw where some owls used to nest in an old sycamore and then went into the meadow and looked at the stars, still hearing some of the symphony back and forth.  Really quite magical.

It was late by the time we left and so we grabbed fast food and headed back to our hotel, having a good night's sleep before the east-facing windows brightened the room (worst room-darkening curtains ever.)  We had a leisurely continental breakfast downstairs--some pretty good glazed cinnamon bear claws--and eventually left the hotel for our Saturday's big activity:  Patriot's Day celebration and programming at Historic Deerfield.  We had never been to the house museums that make up Historic Deerfield, thinking they were rather dry house museum tours focusing on obscure genealogies and decorative arts, but there were many other things going on to mark the anniversary of the "shot heard round the world" at Lexington and Concord. We made "liberty" tea bags with mint and lemon balm, talked to a docent about powder horn carving (which I compared to scrimshaw and was vehemently corrected.  I still say the crafts are similar--they're both carving on bone), and had a very lively interaction with the docents doing the cooking demo, who both discussed making drinking chocolate and then actually demonstrated how they made a coal bed for a baking kettle and put hot coals on the lid!  Really very interesting, even though I'd heard it described a dozen times.  Then we visited just one house because, indeed, we were right--a dry-as-dirt PAID docent droning on about clocks and wallpaper and portraits to ten-year-olds. Mercy, if I were the education director . . . .  We rushed off to the encampment where Sis enjoyed seeing a weapons demo on horseback--Mama and I learned about the efficacy of a sharp steel blade back by an 800 lb horse and a 200 lb man with gear--as the re-enactor said, he doesn't even have to exert much effort to be deadly (we laughed about how he decapitated that bad ol' Tory Watermelon in his demo!  I think you had to be there.)  I liked seeing the women cooking cornbread and beef stew outside.  And I LOVE the fife and drum music played by the Nathan Hale Ancient Fife and Drum Corps.  We also enjoyed our wagon ride up and down the preserved street, enjoying all the 18th-century houses.

And lunch was good, too!  We had a very tasty repast at Champney's in the Deerfield Inn, with French onion soup, chowder, a charcuterie, fish and chips, fried calamari, and poutine with maple pulled pork.  Mmm, mmm good.  While we were eating, the re-enactor rider from Lexington arrived announcing the beginning of hostilities at Lexington and Concord and General Gage's maneuvers.  The kids and I watched from the porch of the inn as the rider encouraged the captain to call up the local militia and then everyone marched off.  But instead of going to war, we went back to lunch.

Winding up our trip, we stopped at Richardson's for some ice cream (mmmm, purple cow and burnt-sugar and butter, which tastes like maple) and chocolates.  And we went to Webs, the largest yarn store in the country, which I had shopped online (at but didn't know was in Northampton!  Ooooh, what a place!  So many wonderful colors and textures.  So much temptation.  I chose a few skeins to make mandalas but didn't have an exact project in mind to go buying a dozen skeins.  I did learn about their line of Valley yarns, in all the different weights and lovely colors.  I'll be dreaming of things to make with those (I even took some photos so I could remember which weights I liked.)

Lastly, we stopped for Tibetan food at our favorite restaurant halfway home.  We got there just at 5 and so didn't have to wait as we usually do.  Another great meal:  mango dhara drinks, iced chai, avocado potato salad, spicy noodles (Thukpa Dhrangmo), chicken with noodles and veg (Gyathuk Ngopa), dumpling soup (Mokthuk), fried dumplings (Sha Momo), fried bread (Bhaklep), steamed bread (Tingmo), and vinegary slaw (Dhang-tsel.)  So, so good.  And the perfect end to another great 36 hour vacation!

At least we have today to ease into the work week tomorrow . . . .

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