To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fall and Winter Plans

I wish upon a star that I can just find a way to parlay my love of travel, life-long learning and exploration into something more....

Well, autumn has arrived!  A few leaves are starting to turn in the DC area.  I don't know if I am ready for this.

  • Denver
  • New Orleans
  • Arkansas
  • Victoria, Canada
  • NYC/NJ
  • Caribbean

We are well into fall, and I have already ran though a few corn mazes!  The air is crisp and I am hankering to get to an apple orchard for some fresh fall produce to cook up in my kitchen.  I recently purchased a pumpkin pie scented oil diffuser that is making my place smell like I have baked something yummy... now I need to do it!

Fall also means that I want to get out for a last bit of fresh air - I want to hit a trail and soak up the colors, feel the sun on your exposed skin and enjoy the sites and sounds of the changing of the season.  And for some reason, DC's fall is lack-luster AGAIN!  So, off I go... I had a few things planned early, and some trips will be last minute.

In October, I had a few weekend trips planned to Colorado and Louisiana to see friends and loved ones.  Short trips, but important ones since I don't get to these areas for work any more.  New Orleans is one of my favorite cities and part of my heart... I am excited that I got there before Halloween again!  And Denver is beautiful in the fall - the yellows are always spectacular.

In November, I am headed out for a big National Park visit in Arkansas - Hot Springs National Park!  This is a big one!  With the Parks Centennial, I made an effort to get to a few new (to me) parks and park units, and an Arkansas   weekend gives me a chance to see Hot Springs and Little Rock High School Historic Site.  And then will flip around to Seattle to visit the best friend for her Birthday celebration, where we mark the occasion in Victoria Canada.  She runs an amazing web site called What's up Northwest, and with her connections, we will have an epic weekend! 

In December, I have am trying to find time to visit Florida again (we will see if I can get this to work)... and I will return to NYC!  I will be headed to Broadway to see my fav, Sutton Foster in Sweet Charity with my good friend before I embark on a 12 day Caribbean trip on the Queen Mary 2.  I may not have been on the New Kids on the Block cruise this year nor did I get to my final state, Hawaii, but this cruise may just make up for that... this cruise will stop by a few new places for me - including St Kitts, St Marteen, Tortola, and Dominica as well as a return trip to St Thomas (I have not been there since my 30th birthday).

Caves, Trails, History and Muscle Cars

I am back from Kentucky... it was a trip of national parks full of caves and history, some interesting oddities and the National Corvette Museum.  Science, History, and America's Great Sports Car, its an eclectic mix for sure.  I can't say I got bored.  It was a feast for the mind; geology lessons were everywhere (even in the Corvette Museum) and Lincoln's past was part of the area's identity.  It was a feast for the eyes; the topography is gorgeous, filled with rolling green lush mountains and interesting rock formations.  And it was a challenge for the ears; cave sounds are faint, but present and walks through the woods were filled with wind blown leaves and scurrying creatures busying themselves for the cold months ahead.  Not once did I lack for something to see or do. 

I have wanted to return to Kentucky for at least 10 years... it is such a pretty area.  As I make my way through the National Parks, Cave Country was a necessity.  Mammoth Caves is a behemoth ... its gigantic and its still being explored.  Already, it stands (expands) as the largest cave system in the world.  There are over 400 miles of explored cave in the park; the park service estimates that over 600 miles still exist unexplored (by man) still to come.  While you do not need to be a spelunker to see the caves today, you can sign up and help map new areas with special outings in the park service (experienced spelunkers only - this is not the cave to get your feet wet, literally).    Me?  I am not a cave crawler... now, I have bobbled my way through some caves through the years, but those were always pre-explored trails... maybe one day before my old dancer knees completely go out I will have to get down and grimy.  For now, I hike!  And hike I did!

I came here for the Caves and I was going to see them.  So, I signed up for the longest hike they offered through the system - a 4 mile trek that the parks called extremely strenuous!  Yikes! And only 4 miles - how was that a possible designation?  I have been on hikes that that parks called strenuous before and survived them all (some better than others), but "extremely strenuous"?  What was that?  And earlier this year, I was on a hike in Cornado that was painful, and yet that was marked moderate (realized much later that I was at elevation - oops).  I worked myself up about this hike.  And once I arrived to sign in, I had a ranger suggest that I sign up for another limited opportunity at Great Oynx Cave (within the park).  "I was here for the caves"... I kept repeating that mantra in my head as the pre-cave lecture told us over and over again that we could die in the cave.  Again, just what as I doing?  The ranger spoke of over 700 stairs and steep incline, of tight passages and no way out after mile 1.  AGHHHH.  And then we got in there and going... and it was fine.  I was fine.  It was not a killer trail.  It was just one NOT for people that do not get outside.  It was not for people that do not move.  It was not for people with claustrophobia.  Yes, there were lots of stairs and plenty of switchbacks, but we rested after each steep assent.  No big deal... but I could see how it would be, because if you got hurt or overestimated your abilities, it would take you hours to get help.  And that is a YIKES!

Gypsum Flowers
Cave Cricket!
Inside the cave, I will be honest, is not the prettiest cave system you have seen.  This is not famous for its formations (there are some)... it is famous for its size.  We stood in one cavern that was over 900 feet tall.  We saw a few great formations... but for me, the coolest cave feature was the gypsum formations.  Sadly, the overwhelming majority of them had been poached from the cave walls well before the site became a national park, but there were a few around to see.  Many formations looked like delicate flowers, some more like spindly flowers and there was one room with a popcorn ceiling full of the element.  You would think museums all over would have specimens of this cool formation - NOPE!  Gypsum is highly sensitive.  The cave environment is stagnant... once outside, changes in temperature and humidity could lead to them to "melt".  Just leave the cool stuff in the cave people!  And that goes for the amazing cave creatures that evolved to live in this completely dark environment.  On our tour, we learned we could not go down to the river since there were species unique to the cave (i.e. the only ones anywhere); eyeless shrimp and fish that were also translucent.  On the trails, we saw some cave crickets that looks like something out of a scifi movie when then mated with daddy-long-legs, and some spiders.  No bats!  The bat population at Mammoth has been decimated from White Nose Fungus... Don't carry those spores around people - wash your shoes.  And the park made sure we did after each cave entry - walking us down a Woolite filled pathway.  White Nose is nasty; it suffocated the bats, covering their airways with a fungus. And while there are reports on successful ways to cure infected bats, the question remains in just "how to administer to them" in the wild; you could take at more than the fungus.  It's a sad conundrum. 

I needed clean shoes for the rest of my trip... because although White Nose is present in Mammoth Cave - it is not in other locations, so you have to be diligent.  After my day hiking above and below ground at Mammoth, I was faced with the wrath of Mother Nature... she rained out my evening Ranger talk... and she wasn't done because her storms the night before did not die down; I woke up looking at a massive thunderstorm.  Ugh - it always rains on my trips, without fail.  I had planned my history excursion to go according to Lincoln's timeline... but "best laid plans."  A quick look on my weather apps told me I had a half day window to get up to Indiana and explore Lincoln's birthplace ... and off I went to see the place Lincoln grew up in. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Heading Off To Visit Another Park - Kentucky is Calling!

There are 59 National Parks (as of this moment), and well over 500 units in the park system (including monuments, historic sites, sea/lakeshores, recreation areas, battlefields, etc).  I have visited 37 parks, about 155 units in total.  After this weekend, those numbers will tick up slightly.  I am off to visit Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, along with Lincoln's Birthplace and Boyhood homes in Kentucky and Indiana. 

The caves have been on my list for quite a while.  I started reading up on them before my first and only trip to Kentucky in the early 00's. I did not know much about Kentucky, so out came the maps to study up ...  With that trip, I was in Moorehead for work and wanted to explore the area.  Mammoth was too far away for a weekend journey, so I used my time to explore eastern Kentucky. And explore it, I did!   I traveled down the Daniel Boone National Forest in late autumn, hiking some trails while enjoying the rolling topography; I took in the colors, the geological features (stone arches) and soaked in the views.   The end of the trails brought me to  Southeaster Kentucky.  I ended up at Cumberland Gap and Cumberland State Park for one of the most spectacular natural phenomenon I have ever witnessed, moonbows!  Think rainbows but at night using the light of the full moon.  Cumberland Falls is the only place in North America you can see a moonbow and one of only 2 places in the world to see one consistently.  Of course you need perfect full moon conditions to see one - and I got that and more.  That night, I got a perfect moonbow, followed by a lunar eclipse with a meteor shower, followed by the return of the full moon for a double moonbow. I saw bows in basic colors to a white halo glow.  It was glorious.  You can't make this stuff up... and as I stood in the falls mists, on that cold late autumn evening, I knew I was gonna get seriously sick (and I did), and it didn't matter because the stars aligned for one memorable shows of nature. I still recall this lunar opportunity with awe.   I ended my journey  with something completely different, by traveling back to Lexington (where I started), celebrating horses and their power.  I was able to pay respects to Secretariat.

So while my travels through eastern Kentucky was thorough, Mammoth Caves has always been out there calling me to return.  I have visited the other cave systems in the park system, including Carlsbad, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, but this one is the longest system in the world (over 400 miles explored). It was unique and I needed to go.

I finally bit the bullet! 

I have a 4 hour cave tour scheduled and a plan to visit the area.  Calgon, take me away... Actually the National Parks are taking me away (and I need it). I need to recharge.  I am  looking forward to seeing what Mammoth Caves and the surrounding area has to offer... and I will report back! I am ready to learn something new and my camera is packed.  See you on the flip side.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Classic Crooner, Boy Bands, Pop Stars, Broadway, and a Living Legend!

Summer is unofficially over (the equinox is not here YET)... I am not sure how it is September already.  I was so caught off guard that I missed my first post-Impressionism lecture at the Smithsonian - I knew it started in September, and I knew Labor Day just passed, but I just failed to connect the calendar dots.  Time flies too quickly.  It is scary. 

I would say where did the time go, but I have the answers - at work, weekend getaways, and in the many moments I had this season enjoying live music.  It has been an amazing summer for music.

 I found myself at quite a few Broadway shows (I love me some Broadway belting).  Looking back, this might be one of my best Broadway viewing seasons in a long while.  This summer, I saw shows solo, with friends, and with family.  There was my 4th of July bender where I saw Finding Neverland, She Loves Me, and Beautiful; and then near the end of August I saw American in Paris and Waitress.  Before the summer season even started, I grooved to Disaster the Musical and tapped along with Dames at Sea.  In DC, I finally saw the classic orchestrations of Bridges of Madison County.  (And there were more this past winter with Bright Star, Allegiance)  In those shows, I saw some Broadway legends and legends to be... I could not contain my excitement to see Gavin Creel along with Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti and Jane Krakowski (She Loves Me) and was giddy before Waitress with Jessie Mueller and Disaster packed with stars including Faith Prince and Adam Pascal. I saw Star Trek legend George Takei and legendary Lei Salonga in the gut wrenching WWII flashback (Allegiance).   I left shows in awe of Keale Sette (Waitress), Lesli Margherita  (Dames at Sea), Carmen Cusek (Bright Star) and Jennifer Simard (Disaster); these are names I will seek out in the future, easily.  All told, I saw 11 shows... and the year is not over.  Many new cast albums have been added to my collection - keeping me dancing in my seat while at work looking over paperwork!

The Lawn at Wolf Trap!
Broadway did not end there... Wolf Trap, National Park for the Performing Arts  had an incredible season.... and one of the shows I attended was with stage and screen siren Kristen Chenoweth (you know her - Wicked, Charlie Brown, West Wing, Glee, Pushing Daisies...)  So, braving the rain (not for the first time), a friend and I picnicked on the lawn to hear jokes and stories along with Popular, Fathers and Daughters and covers from many Broadways shows .... she even stumped us with a little known number from Flora and the Red Menace (leaving many of us to random google searches). 

Wolf Trap delivered more rain and more fantastic moments when I got to see Tony "freaking" Bennett!  My boyfriend and I sat through an epic thunderstorm, with lightening flashing too close for comfort, under a tablecloth, to see this crooner.  I refused to leave... he is Tony Bennett, and he turned 90 years old.  How many more opportunities would be have to see this living legend?  Don't know, but I do know that neither of us had seen him yet, so we weren't going to let wet asses keep us away from this show.  Acknowledging the storm, he cracked a few jokes as the classics he sang referred to weather, rain and sun. We were not exactly in a smoky room at small round tables with candles (how else you think of the old jazz singers with their bands preformed)... but man was it worth it to hear how he can still swing that voice. 

Tony was not the only legend we saw this summer... I got to see a Beatle!  A Beatle!  We went to see Paul McCartney.  And the boyfriend still gets giddy about this show, calling it the best we have ever seen.  He played for over 2 hours, pounding the keys and working the strings - singing songs from Pre-Beatles to his most recent song with Rihanna and Kanye.  It was an honest and true rock concert with lights, lasers and speaker issues... he joked that we all wanted the Beatles stuff and he could prove it with all the cell phones that came out at those moments; he admitted that he likes singing more than that... and that he likes to push.  And the crowd ate it up.  He could have played all night.  Sometimes, he didn't even need to sing because the crowd did it for him... like the entire place singing Hey Jude "lalalalala." It was an amazing, transcendent experience.

Friday, August 26, 2016

As American as Baseball and Apple Pie

Cooperstown has been on my bucket list for years.  I always thought it would be a cool place to take my brother.  I thought it was the perfect idea.  I looked into it ... a lot.  But my brother was more into ice hockey than anything else, so this trip was just hanging out there.  And there it sat, as a place on a list of "Weekend Trip Ideas."  I revisited that list every so often and kept putting it off.  It wasn't really a trip I thought I would enjoy on my own and it wasn't one for a "quick get away".  Cooperstown is roughly 6 1/2 hours from DC, which meant I needed at least 4 days to do this trip and see all that there was to see.  Because, once you look into it, Cooperstown is more than the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Finally, this summer, the stars aligned and I was able to finally see this bit of sports history (and so much more).

Honestly though, who are you kidding, you know you are going to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame.  This is the place that chronicles our national pastime.  It preserves over 200 years of baseball history.  I have heard great things about the museum, and like everyone else, got a glimpse of it from the best sports movie of all time, A League of Their Own (and I say that only slightly as an exaggeration - this movie is a perfect classic). I wanted to visit to see that exhibit itself.  I love baseball, so I was looking forward to seeing some baseball history.   I expected the museum to be filled with facts, figures and tons of baseball stats.  In short, I expected it to be a gigantic baseball card.  And, I could not have been more wrong. 

Babe Ruth
 It was a tribute "For the Love of the Game." We spent an entire day exploring, learning, laughing and playing. It is just an amazing place clearly built with love, respect and admiration of the game and for its place in our culture.  There was deep baseball history, looking back to the storied baseball clubs in New York.  You could learn of the evolutions of rules.  You saw how baseball moved from recreation to sport and understood its place in American History.  It did not shy away from the ugly; there was whole sections on the racial divide (we learned that baseball was integrated before it was segregated). Those that have transcended time had their own sections - Ruth and Aaron!  The Women in Baseball section honored not just those that played in the Women's League, AAGPBL, but notes accomplishments of women breaking barriers on the field in softball and baseball, and in management (and yes, you can see a Rockford Peach and Racine Bell's uniform).  And Latin America's passion for the game was celebrated  in "Viva Baseball." 

Mike Piazza 2016 inductee
Let's Go METS!
Throughout the museum there were interactive opportunities to keep tech-addicted fingers busy... touch screen monitors hosted quizzes and took surveys, wall-sized monitors played many baseball highlights and in one room you could sit and watch "Who's on First" in totality.  There was section that spoke to kids directly, "The Sandlot", that quizzed you of the importance of exercise, commitment, ethics and staying drug free.  If you needed to step back and relax, the theatre was a great place to watch movie clips, and the "Scribes and Mikemen" section celebrated the legacy of our announcers.  And because baseball transcends sports, there was a fine art section showing how baseball has soaked its way into all that represents us. 

Inside the museum, on the first floor are the hallowed halls of the Hall of Fame.  After meandering our way through 3 floors of baseball storytelling, this was honestly a let down.  After all, how much dolling up can you do to a sectioned atrium with alcoves of bronze plaques.  To find the greats you wanted to see you could meander around the decades (of induction, not play time), or consult the wall charts. 
This does not look like
Ken Griffey Jr!
The plaques capture the likeness of the inductee (or tried to - see poor Ken Griffey Jr) and provide a brief bio for why they were worthy.  What I learned quickly is that the museum and the hall are two very distinct places.  You find Pete Rose all over the museum, but he is still not in the hall of fame; likewise Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa are given rightful credit for saving baseball post-strike for their electric home run competition, but they will never be in the Hall.  For all the talk baseball does of reaching across the gender divide, and for near universal recognition that Dottie Schroeder has of being one of the best, the Hall only lists one female (an executive) on its walls. Baseball has struggled with how to reconcile rule breakers and gender barriers.  In my eyes, the 2 portions of the facility need to have a reckoning...

There is more to Cooperstown and the surrounding area than just the Hall of Fame.  If you can force yourself to leave the building, you can walk 2 blocks to one of the most pristine lakes in the entire country, Lake Otsego.  A glacial lake, it is surrounded my mountains and dense, thick forest.  There are only a few public access points for the lake, but you need to find one and get out there.  You can take the Glimmerglass Queen out on the water for a 1 hour easy ride out to about the middle of the lake; stay outside, because not only are the views simply spectacular and the air fresh, but the boat is not air-conditioned.  You can also take some kayaks (our choice), canoes, or paddle boards out, giving you a more personal connection to the water.  Here you can look at the water at eye level, catch some fish jumping out of the water at random moments (no carp in this lake), or some birds soaring around.  We were only out on the kayaks for an hour, I could have done that for much longer...
sadly we were only able to get on the water for a short while because mother nature continues her vacation torture plan - such extreme storms settled over the area for our trip, its a wonder we got on the water at all.  While on the Glimmerglass Queen, we were soaked as a storm barreling down the lake overtook us on the return (and we walked blocks to our car in it); driving around we were constantly rerouted for downed/lightening struck trees.  It was unfortunate since we both wanted me water time... alas, we promise another time.  Maybe I can bribe Mother Nature?!?!?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy 100th National Park Service

The National Park Service has turned 100 years old.  America's best idea has had a centennial.  They have inspired countless millions, as well as the entire world, showing why its important to preserve open space, and history and heritage for generations to come.  Today, the park service is over 413 pieces large; there are 59 parks (the biggest units), and hundreds of monuments, historic sites, memorials, lake/seashores, battlefields, wild/scenic rivers, trailways, etc.

As I explore the country, one of my priorities on my stops have always been seeking out and exploring our national heritage.  Some of my trips are planned specifically around some of the biggest parks, and other times, it is just a stop along the journey.  But no matter what, I know that I will walk away more aware for having visited.  It is always worth it. 

My love of natural parks began before I even knew what they were.  I remember my Nana and Pop-pop taking my sister and I to Sandy Hook to go crabbing.  We would swim out with the nets to help them bring the catch in, and then throw all the fish back before  they died while they gathered a few crabs.  I did not know we were in Gateway National Recreation Area... I just thought of it as the place we went swimming with our grandparents.  Likewise, growing up in Northern New Jersey, I lived just off the Delaware River... we used to swim in a tributary, and close by was a place with lots of amazing waterfalls and where the river cut through the mountains (Delaware Water Gap) ... we loved going there to enjoy the views.  And of course, to our east was the Statue of Liberty where we climbed into the crown before it was eventually closed many times... I was spoiled living so close to the city and pure nature. 

And that spoilage stays with me... I still want it all.  I find beauty in the city and in the country.  And when I travel, I like to find both.  National Parks are one way I do that.  They are everywhere - did you know there is at least one in everystate (as well as most territories).

I didn't start tracking my park visits via passport until recently.  Instead, I have my work cabinets
This is only one!
covered in magnets from parks I have been through since I started my "adult" life.  And my cameras have been very busy documents the beauty and splendor of the everything I have seen.  On this blog, I try keep my recent park visits listed... But I can't say I write about every one. 

Of course my "pie in the sky" goal is to visit all the units.  I just don't have the means to quit my job and do a cross country expedition like a few are documenting on Instagram, Twitter, and in the news.  Instead, I am doing what I can in pieces... and making progress.  According to my Passport app, I have been to 144 units thus far.  Not bad....if I do say so myself.

This year, I promised myself to make a dent in the list of "new".  And I started out strong - in January getting to the Outer Banks in NC to see the Wright Brothers and Fort Raleigh; there my boyfriend stayed in the visitor's center as I took to the trail in a pounding rain storm to see the art deco memorial, and once I returned soaked, we drove to the flight bronze sculpture.  I warmed my bones in February by returning to Southern Arizona to visit Saguaro National Park for sunset (I finally got to visit when I wasn't cooking my head); hiked to the southern border in Coronado National Memorial, and drove to the nearby historical mission Tumacacori.  Then I a cliff dwelling in Montezuma Castle and learned about endemic species at the Well.  Throughout the spring, I did a lot of local roadtrips to visit area parks - including Hopewell Furnace (once a thriving iron casting town) and Valley Forge in central Pennsylvania, Steamtown in Scranton PA marking the immense historical impact Steam engines had on shaping our country, discovered the Monocacy Battlefield and River in Maryland, tried to catch Kenilworth Gardens at peak bloom (missed it) and took some time for myself (and showing others around) the national mall! 

No DC summer is complete without Wolf Trap - the only National Park for the Performing Arts.  This is my favorite place in the summer.  As the Park Service asks us to #FindYourPark , I have taken that seriously.  I love going to our area gem Great Falls and hiking the river trail.  I love going on roadtrips and finding a new place to discover (its ridiculous that I still have not been to Prince William Forest Park yet).  And I love planning other excursions across the country to some huge gems.  But, if I was looking for THE PLACE to call my park, it just might be Wolf Trap!  It combines my love of the outdoors with my passion for the arts.  Where else could I see the National Symphony Orchestra one week, listen to the legend Tony Bennett another, soak in Kristen Chenoweth and her Broadway style belting, dance until my feet were tired with Ricky Martin and reminisce with Bryan Adams?  (and that is just who I saw this year) And the best part, Great Fall is right next door. So, if forced to pick, this might be it... but ask me again in a bit after I visit another park.

I have my wish list lined up. I have a few trips booked - a September long weekend at Mammoth Caves (and other areas sites) in Kentucky, a quick trip to Denver where I hope to make some time for a visit to Rocky Mountain (its been years since I was there), and Arkansas's Hot Springs in November.  My "very soon" list includes Lassen NP in California, Dry Tortugas NP in Florida (I still don't know how I keep missing that one), Patterson Falls - the new one in my home state of New Jersey, and of course, the parks in my last state, Hawaii (I will make it to Volcanoes very soon, I swear).  I have a few others, but my wallet is worried already...

Our National Parks are unique treasures.  And they are ours!  Get out there and explore.  Trust me, there is something for everyone.  You just need to find it!  If you need any recommendations, just ask!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Canada's First Capital - Kinsgton

After our quick tour of Ottawa, the Canadian Capital, we headed to Kingston, the first Capital of Canada (named so in 1841).  It's a small, quaint city on the water, and the water remains important to the city's identity - it is the gateway to 1000 Isles National Park.

One of the first things you notice about Kingston once you get into its heart is that City Hall looks like a state house.  There is good reason for that. Due to a fire that burnt the city to the ground in the mid-1800's, city leaders called for the city to be reconstructed using non-flammable materials - namely, limestone.  City Hall's design was a large completion for a stately look.  Canada moved it's capital to Ottawa before the new building could ever be used as the state house (until the fire on Parliament Hill resulted in a temporary move back to Kingston). 

Today, City Hall is one of finest 19th century buildings in Canada and a nationally designated heritage site. Kingston, itself, is nicknamed "Limestone City" since the rebuild resulted in a central business district filled with grand heritage limestone architecture. 
There were plenty of grand buildings to take in since Kingston is also named the Education City; home to 3 major universities, including the first diploma granting University, Queens University and the Royal Military College.  We took several loops around town in the Hop On/Hop Off trolley, as we toured, giving us good looks at the schools, the city and its notable architecture.  We even got off at Queens to tour the Geology Museum and its impressive collection of minerals located in the halls of one of the campus buildings, and the student art museum.  I think I drove my friend crazy talking about the connection between my alma mater and this school, but I just could not help it... Rutgers University was originally Queens College, and was one of the first colleges in the colonies.  It is older than the country itself.  And here we were, walking around Queens University, that boosted a similar story of being founded before Canada itself.  I did leave with one question about the campus though... what did the clocktower's clock have no hands?  No one could tell us! 

On our tour of Kingston, we stopped by Bellevue House, National Historic Site, the home of Canada's first Prime Minister (and Kingston's famous son) Sir John Alexander MacDonald.  Here we watched a historical introduction and then were granted access to the visitor center, the gardens and the home.  We learned that Sir John moved here thinking the air would be good for his very sick wife, whom on many occasions could not gather energy to leave her bed on the first floor (she had consumption). And then we learned that they had had children in the home.  Hmmmm.... that raised our brows.  We had more fun with the costumed guides were scattered throughout all shaking their butter containers - apparently that is easier then churning it and it only takes several thousand rattles of cream to whip it into a spread... these girls were sure to have amazing shoulders and bi/triceps at the end of the summer.  They let us try some home whipped butter on a cracker in the kitchen. Yum.  Thanks ladies.  And if that was not old school enough, we tried our hands at hand dipping candles in the basement.  I have not tested this skill  since I visited Waterloo Village in NJ, and I must be rusty because our candles came out looking phallic and pathetic.  This was a time consuming procedure - dip in wax and then then in water using twine.  I don't remember that in Waterloo... maybe NJ knew a trick. We left the dipping to the kids and continued on our Kingston tour.

Easily the highlight of the trip to Kingston was the sunset boat tour through 1000 Islands National Park.  This was an incredibly fun and beautiful evening with my friend as we wined and dined aboard this vessel sailing up the Lawrence river from it's mouth in Lake Ontario.  The food was a pleasant surprise - they make it on the boat.  I was ready for rubbery steak and chicken, but we were instead greeted with a menu of choices including seafood, pork, steak, chicken and a veggie dish.  And because we know how to maximize our experiences - we ordered 2 different meals and shared tastes.   Likewise with the desserts... that carrot cake cheesecake needed to be tested afterall!

The boat ride included entertainment, as in a crazy musician that "morphed" into any artist he needed to be.  Armed with outfits, wigs and dolls, he kept us laughing.  And because I don't shy away from zaniness, he picked on me, as the only one on the boat from the United States.  It had become a theme of "what is up with Trump"... and you have to laugh because there is no other way around it.  The night only grew more grand as golden hour hit and we were treated to stunning views inside and outside the boat.  The crew gave us time between courses to top side and soak it all in.  My friend and I marveled at the homes built on the tiny islands; the only way in and out would be a boat.  Now, my non-Canadian butt might enjoy this in the summer months, but I know what happens a few months from now... it gets COLD.  And not just DC cold... nope, Canadian cold.  And living on the water, in a home, surrounded by ice just does not sound that amazing.  So, sure, you could make that a summer retreat... where you have to travel by boat to get to your home island... but me, I like the looks of the area without the homes.  Just the small islands dotting the landscape.  To limit the numbers of homes taking over the islands not protected by park status (only 40:1750), there are requirements for the island - including at least one tree.  So, a tree needs to live on it so you can cut it down to build a home?  I didn't get it... but I did appreciate the scenery.  And if you have Canadian anti-freeze in your blood, it makes plenty of sense to want to live there.  It was beautiful!

Before we left the beauty of Kingston, we did one more round on the trolley and headed past the Royal Military College to Fort Henry National Historic Site.  Here we got to experience 1860's British military life at the fort and take in the sweeping views of the city.  Our tour guide walked us through the structure, showcases the dichotomy between officers and the enlisted lower ranks.  From dining experiences, to housing, family accommodations to responsibilities, these guides, in full dress and in character talked of life at the fort.  While it was never used in battle, it was fully operational.  They needed to protect themselves from those pesky colonists to the south.  In fact, I heard a lot about the war of 1812, and how they beat back the invaders... I learned more Canadian history in my one week trip through its capital cities then I ever have before.  It was educational.  It was beautiful.  AND I am going to do it again.  It's a big country and someone has to see it!