Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Fair!

It couldn’t be September without a post about the Three County Fair.  This year was particularly fun – a new jousting show with sword fighting and everything!  And Aaron is big enough to go on more rides by himself, which makes it much easier on the adults!

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Lydia and Grandma on the Polar Express.

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And Aaron and Nate, too!

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Jake riding the Vomitron. I mean, the Scrambler.

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Aaron was just barely tall enough for this ride! Jake volunteered to chaperon.

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Roller coaster!

The fair is such an expensive endeavor, and it’s always so crowded, and noisy, and dirty.  Why do we go year after year, you ask?  Well, I always feel that way when we’re there, but each year when I look back on it in hindsight, I think it’s one of those family traditions that the kids will remember wistfully when they’re adults.  And that’s an important thing.

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The State House

At our elementary school’s silent auction last Spring, we bid on and won a behind-the-scenes tour of the Massachusetts State House, and lunch with our Representative, Peter Kocot.  We finally got all of our schedules to mesh, and headed out to the State House in late August.  We didn’t really know what to expect.  Nate had visited the State House as a child on a school trip, and having grown up here is very familiar with the history of the state.  In comparison, I’m a near total ignoramus.

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We had parking arranged for us right outside the statehouse.  We had to check in with the State Trooper, who verified that we were on “the list” and were allowed to park curbside right there.  There’s something about getting special parking that makes you want to crow about it, especially in a city such as Boston where parking is hard to find and REALLY expensive.  I wanted to stand at the curb and shout, “Everyone! Look at this parking spot!”  But Nate insisted we were running late and should go inside.

We briefly met Representative Kocot in his office, and then he escorted us up to the standard tour, telling us he’d meet us in the House chambers after the tour.  We had a lovely tour guide who took us through the building, telling us about the history, the architecture, and the artwork throughout.  It is a very impressive building:

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The Senate chambers. Not that the heights of the chairs all differ depending on the height of the senator so that they are all level when sitting down together!

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The House chambers. This is the view from the podium, where tours are not normally allowed.

We met Representative Kocot there in the House chambers and talked about what it’s like when the legislature is in session.  We saw his desk, and his neighbor’s collection of Pez dispensers which she has stashed in her desk.  We talked about what it’s like to stand up in the chambers and speak.  We got to sit in the speaker’s chair, and touch the gavel pad (which is dented and splintered!).

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Aaron doesn’t look like he’d take the Speaker’s job too seriously!

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Lydia, on the other hand, looks like she’s plotting to take over the world.

From there we went to lunch at a very nice restaurant full of what looked to be wheeling and dealing politicians.  The kids were well-behaved, and we had a wonderful meal.  It was interesting to talk politics with an actual politician.  We asked lots of questions about the influence of money on politics, the issues that Representative Kocot finds particularly exciting, and what he sees are the biggest issues moving forward in our state, and our area in particular.

As we were leaving the restaurant, I heard a familiar voice call out, “Hi, Pete!”  I realized that it was Governor Deval Patrick greeting Representative Kocot as he was walking briskly by.  We had heard earlier that he was giving a big speech that afternoon, it being the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington.  He was apparently on his way to make the speech. Mr. Kocot called out to him, “Governor!”  And he actually stopped and came over.  Our lovely Representative introduced each of us and we all got to shake hands with the governor.  It would have been enough of a thrill just to have seen the governor walk by, but it was such a nice gesture from Mr. Kocot to give us the chance to actually meet him!

We said our goodbyes and thank yous and decided to walk around Boston Common before we piled in the car to come home.

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My two politicians.

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From the Swan Boat.

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Muir Woods

While we were visiting in California, Jake put in a request to see Muir Woods. Honestly, I wasn’t too excited about it. We’ve been to Muir Woods many times.  I felt that it was kind of stale.  We’ve seen the big trees.  We have pictures of the big trees.  What more could we get out of it?

Well, it turns out Muir Woods never gets old.  It’s so hard to describe… it’s majestic.  It’s humbling.  Maybe because I went in feeling a little blase about the whole thing, I felt particularly small and insignificant as we wandered quietly through the trees.  But at the same time I felt a calmness and inclusion – a part of something larger.  Sounds spiritual, right?  It felt spiritual.  Coming from someone who’s really not all that spiritual, that’s really saying something.

It’s impossible to capture Muir Woods on film.  I’ve tried many times – I take so many pictures, gasping at the beauty of each one, and then I get them home and… they are small and flat and empty.  Nonetheless, here are my attempts:

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Harrumph. It looks like plain old woods.

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More run-of-the-mill woods. Harrumph again.

I had more luck this time aiming on a smaller scale:

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If you feel like you’ve been to Muir Woods and seen it all before, I’d urge you to go again.  You won’t be sorry.

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Alcatraz

Nate and I have been to Alcatraz Island twice. The first time in the summer of 1994, and then again in probably 1998. Well before children. Every time we’ve gone back to the Bay Area to visit, I’ve thought, “Let’s take Jake to Alcatraz!” And every single time, it’s sold out. So this time I bought tickets well in advance to make sure we could all go!

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Who can resist taking a picture of the flag streaming on the ferry?!

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It’s worth the trip.  The tour is audio based.  You get a little headset and audio player, and it directs you to different stations while former guards and prisoners talk about different aspects of the history and architecture of the prison.  It’s much more interesting that a docent-led tour would be.  The downside is that you get a huge number of people shuffling around, crowding around certain areas, and not really paying attention to what’s around them.  I found it very crowded and hard to move around.  Given the chance to do it again, I would probably spend 15 minutes or so down at the ferry landing before heading to the tour – enough time to give most people the chance to have started the tour and moved along.

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It’s really hard to get a picture inside Alcatraz that’s not teeming with shuffling tourists!

That issue aside, I enjoyed the first-person feeling of the audio tour, and the history of the jail itself is fascinating!

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Aaron, Lydia, and Cousin Oliver on the audio tour.

After the tour, the younger kids headed for home with Grandma and Grandpa.  Nate, Jake, Aaron and I stayed to explore a bit.  We went out in the recreation yard, where the wind was so powerful it almost blew Aaron away!  He and Nate climbed all the way up the steps and sat sheltered by the building for awhile!

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The Bay Bridge seen through what is left of the Warden’s house.

Through a door leading out of the recreation yard, we found some lovely gardens, with gorgeous views!

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I love watching boats on the Bay. It’s always an interesting mix of private and commercial – it really is a bustling scene!

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The new span (about to open), with the old span behind it. Why do they need a new span? The old one was damaged in the 1989 earthquake and declared unsafe. It’s only taken 24 years to build a new one.

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My boys on the way home.

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The USS Hornet

Of all the sights we saw on our vacation, the USS Hornet was the biggest surprise.  My brother and his wife mentioned that they had taken their boys there and it was fun, so when we had a free morning we decided to drive to the old naval station in Alameda and check it out.  We figured we’d be there for a half hour to an hour and then do something else in the afternoon.

Surprise!  We ended up staying for 4 and a half hours and had a complete blast.

The USS Hornet was an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during WWII.  It carried approximately 100 aircraft.  It was instrumental in many battles in the Pacific Theater.  In the late 1960s it was the carrier that recovered Apollo 11 after it returned from the moon, bringing the three astronauts to safety, and keeping them in quarantine for three weeks.  It was decommissioned shortly thereafter, and now it’s a floating museum.

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That little dude in the red sweatshirt is Aaron!

We spent hours wandering around below-decks where there are historical exhibits, as well as room upon room that you could just wander through.  There were officer’s quarters, sailor’s quarters, the commissary, the mess hall, the chapel, the briefing room, the infirmary, complete with operating room and 1960s era x-ray machine.  We saw rows upon rows upon stories of torpedos.  We saw HUGE anchors.

We took a tour of the Island Bridge and Control Tower.  Here’s Aaron in the captain’s chair, just inches from the red phone that was a direct line to the White House in wartime:

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He looks awfully serious, doesn’t he?

There were also aircraft on display both on the flight deck and in the hanger bays.

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The Apollo 11 capsule, as well as the quarantine chamber were there as well.

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Some of the very best views of San Francisco can be found from the flight deck of the USS Hornet:

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If you’re in the Bay Area and find yourself with an afternoon of free time, this activity would not be a mistake!

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The Monterey Bay Aquarium

While on vacation we took a trip down the coast to Monterey to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  We drove down the coast, stopping at Pescadero State Beach for a picnic lunch.  It was windy, as is usual for the California Coast, but beautiful.  We had typical Northern California fare: baguette, goat cheese, hummus, wine, and fruit.

We stayed overnight at a hotel in Monterey.  It had a swimming pool, so we were all set.  It’s funny how all you really need is a pool.  You can be tired, grumpy, jet-lagged… but put the kids in the pool and BLAM!  You’re suddenly having fun.

Anyway, the next morning, we headed over to the aquarium.  I don’t know if there is some official ranking of aquariums world-wide, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium has got to be near the top of that list.  It is phenomenal.  It’s breathtaking at every turn.  And it’s a photographer’s dream.

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The kelp forest.

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Shark!

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More kelp forest.

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They have a lot of hands-on exhibits for adults and children, and the place is chock-full of docents both manning the touching stations and just wandering around spouting interesting information about anything and everything.  All very friendly and clearly loving their jobs.  Here is Aaron in rapt attention at one of the touching pools:

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They also have a sea otter exhibit.  We tried to watch them feeding but it was so crowded we couldn’t really see anything!

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And they have jelly-fish – which turned out to be my favorite exhibit:

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This is not a jelly-fish – it’s Jake through a massive kaleidoscope!

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Their other huge tank is the deep-sea exhibit.  Harder to take pictures because it’s very dark.  More large fish – hammerhead sharks, etc.  Fascinating.  We must have just sat there and watched it for a half hour.

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If you’re in Northern California at all, it’s really worth a side-trip to Monterey to see the aquarium.  You’ll thank me later.

 

 

 

 

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The Campinile

We took a nice walk on the UC Berkeley campus, which is located just blocks from my home growing up.  It had actually been many years since I had leisurely walked through campus, and it brought back a lot of memories!  I used to walk through campus daily on my way home from junior high with my best friend Jane.  I biked to pottery class weekly when I was Jake’s age.  My first kiss was underneath a particularly lovely tree there.

We decided to go up the Campinile.  It’s technically called Sather Tower, but I’ve never heard anyone refer to it that way.  It’s the Campinile.  It’s a clock tower in the center of campus with carillon bells in it.  It had been MANY years since I’d been up there (maybe since I was Jake’s age?).  He loved it, of course.

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It’s really a lovely campus.  Jake has decided to add UC Berkeley to his list of potential colleges.  He says he’ll live with Grandma and Grandpa if he decided to go there.  I’m sure that’ll change, but it’s a sweet sentiment!

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