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The Original Willie

I have been trying to find the time to sit down and finish writing the last three incomplete blog posts. It never fails that by the end of the day, once the kids are tucked tightly into bed, that I am too tired to even think, let alone write. Every evening that I trade sleep for work, I rationalize that I will work on it the next day, but with the kid’s lessons, there is NO time! Lucky for all of you, I chugged some coffee this evening and am ready to get busy with this whole writing thing. I typically like to blog once a week about where we are, what we did, lessons learned, etc. It was working fantastically until the kids started homeschooling. We are currently a one laptop and iPad family, plus whatever Joseph uses for work, but that doesn’t count. While the girls are doing lessons, I am assisting them with their questions, trying to do a couple exercises (I get some odd looks from fellow campers as I am doing jumping jacks and squats), planning our lessons, adventures, and dinner. Anyways, my point to this overly long introduction was to basically explain that I have had a lot on my plate, and unfortunately the blog was not a priority at the time. Now here’s where I am going to play catch up. Instead of me trying to write three separate weeks worth of blogs, I am giving you one long ass post to read. So, grab some popcorn and a beverage and get comfy!

New York

The winding roads of Upstate New York frame out the rolling hills that lead you to an abundance of farm stands equipped with the farmer’s fresh produce, eggs by the dozens, and fresh cut sunflowers. The clean air and smell of the dairy farms remind me that I am home, my first home, where I was born and raised. And as I travel down memory lane, I am reminded why I love this place. It is not only for the beautiful weather and green fields, but for my family, who embrace us with good food, tons of laughs, and all of the love in the world. They are the reason I still come home.

After leaving Gettysburg, PA, we continued our journey north to Upstate NY.  We were blessed with cooler temperatures the week we stayed, which consisted of the windows opened, lessons at the picnic table, bonfires during the evenings, and coffee near the fireplace. It’s not normal for the weather to be this cool in August, but we welcomed the jeans and sweatshirts with open arms after such a hot summer.

This stop allowed us to spend time with some of our favorite people, those being my aunts, uncles, cousins, and famous Gramma. She is known to many as “The Great One” and “The Great Mother” because of how amazing she is and for how many grandchildren and great grandchildren she has. This past spring, we were up here visiting with her while she was sick. It was then that she informed me that she had named her portable oxygen tank “Tony,” after my husband. Ok, a little back story is probably a must. My husband went by “Tony” throughout his childhood and into his young twenties, and then decided he wanted to go by his first name “Joseph” as he entered into the professional world. That year my Gramma received our Christmas card signed by “Sarrah, Joseph, and the girls,” and called me very angry, demanding to know “Who the hell is Joseph?!?!” To this day, Gramma still announces that she’s NOT calling him “Joseph,” and that he will always be Tony! After telling my husband about her naming her tank, he decided that our camper would be known as “Big Willie,” her nickname is high school. So, now you know where our camper’s name came from.

Because we have traveled to NY many times over the past few years, we had to discover a new place to explore. Some of our past adventures have included Niagara Falls, Letchworth State Park, and the Nut Butter Factory (yeah it’s a real thing). During this visit, we were finally able to visit the Genesee Country Village and Museum while seeing my Aunt Karen, who thankfully was working that day, unlike my cousin Jeremy. Slacker! This place was amazing and far better than I had expected. As we drove into the parking lot, the sound of thunder and dark stormy skies threatened our entire visit. We knew that eventually the storm would pass, but how bad would it be and how long did we have? As we stepped into the gift shop to see my aunt, whom I hadn’t seen since Lillian’s baby shower around twelve years ago, she was exactly how I remembered and still just as funny. As we caught up, the rain had started; figures, right? But thankfully, near the register they sold ponchos for $2 a piece, and let me tell you what, we looked fantastic! Now that we had our essentials, we took off into the village. The rain was falling gently for awhile as we strolled through the Pioneer Settlement. As we ventured into the Center Village, we somehow got turned around, lost, and found ourselves running from the lighting streaks and loud thunder. My patience was running low at this point, and I was trying not to get frustrated.  I had little faith that we would be able to make it to the Gas Light District, which was our must see. We hid out in the John L. Wehle Art Gallery for awhile playing dress up with olden day dresses and bonnets, waiting out the storm. As we left the building, the sun was finally shining and we had a new plan. After looking at the map and realizing just how large this place was, we headed straight to the Hyde House, which is an octagon shaped house from the 1870’s. If nothing else, we were going to see the most important thing on our list. Long story short, we made it, saw way more than we had expected, and learned more about George Eastman than I thought was possible. I highly recommend bringing a picnic lunch and possibly a blanket and enjoying lunch at the Great Meadow, or check out the Depot Restaurant or Freight House Pub, which I hear are both pretty delicious. Plan on spending all day here and take your time exploring every nook and cranny. Talk to the interpreters and ask them questions, not only are they knowledgeable but they’re also wearing great costumes!

Before leaving NY, we treated ourselves to some local fare. We try to limit this to once a week, if that, but sometimes meal planning and adventure just don’t go hand in hand. The Irish Mafia Brewery Company caught our eye before we even found our campground. When we were finally able to dine here, we had some amazing local beers, poutine (for the first time EVER!), and a good time. It’s funny that when you aren’t expecting greatness from a restaurant, that is usually when you find an amazing one. Since we started traveling outside of North Carolina, we don’t do drive-thru or chain restaurants and try to only find a fun local place. We are not foodies, but finding good food and drinks is a great reward. I was lucky enough to have time to join my aunt and Gramma for a Friday Fish Fry lunch before we had to head out. I met them at my second great local restaurant find in the area, Mills Creek Cafe. Oh man! It was probably the best fish fry and sweet potato fries I have ever had! Plus, my amazing aunt turned me onto this amazing sauce for dipping called Woodstead Hot Anything & Eveything Sauce… Seriously delicious! If anyone knows how I can order more or is willing to ship me some to NC, please let me know. 🙂

Bennington VA

While our plan was to stay an entire week in NY, campgrounds were fully booked so we opted for another random layover before heading to Salem, MA. Our half way point was near a National Forest- Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest. We needed some place random, not far from the road we were traveling, and someplace new. Bennington, Vermont was that place. Although small in comparison to nearby cities, it offered us a great adventure of exploring numerous covered bridges, an extensive collection of Norman Rockwell’s work where he lived in a nearby town, and the final resting place of Robert Frost. To top it off, we tasted large amounts of maple syrup, sharp cheddar cheese, apple cider doughnuts, and local brews. And it must be said, where I found the best damn horseradish mustard EVER, although it is not local, it is still the best condiment I have ever put on my sandwich… like seriously, EVER. Sorry (not sorry) for being a bit dramatic. I actually have a few jars being shipped to NC because my jar may or may not already be empty. Don’t judge me! But for real, if you’re in the area, check out Sugar Shack for more than half of these items! They are not paying me to say this, but I would have saved a lot of driving around by just going here for everything on our list. 

We had been in the truck for four hours the night before arriving in VT and again most of the next day, and we all started to feel a little grumpy. We had a few options: 1. Give up and head back to our campsite, rest, and head out the next day. 2. Continue on the same path driving around that was boring all of us. Or 3. We could take the road “less traveled by,” as Robert Frost wrote. Chloe announced, as we were conjuring up a new plan and stuffing our faces, that she wanted to go to the large statue that was visible from our table and far off in the distance. This large statue was the Bennington battle Monument, and we were like “Really?”  Back on the road, we set our sites on finding the last of the covered bridges and this tall monument for Chloe.

The Bennington Battle Monument ended up being the one unforgettable thing we did that weekend. For $11, we took the elevator up 200 feet and saw amazing views of the Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York mountains. Seriously, breathtaking. We never doubted Chloe, not even for a second. 

If we could have done this short weekend over again, I would have planned on staying an extra day. We would have loved to hike part of the Appalachian Trail, check out a maple tree farm, and possibly tour Ben & Jerry’s a couple hours away. Either way, if you around the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest, check out Bennington and fill up on all the apple cider doughnuts and maple syrup that you can stand!

 

Salem, MA

Oh, Salem. A place that I will remember for all the lessons we learned in such a short amount of time. In life, we all are learning lessons constantly. Whether simply remembering to set the coffee pot the night before or learning that not everything goes as planned, we are all being taught a new lesson every day. I have felt like since we have been on the road, our lessons have been a bit more intense. I mean, how many of you have learned about a Poop-mobile? My 3 faithful readers will know what I am talking about! In all honesty, every destination, adventure, journey to and fro, conflict, and experience has given us the opportunity to learn. Now whether we really have retained the lesson at hand is a different story, thus giving us more opportunity to learn. 

Lessons Learned

Expectations are going to fall short

I was so excited to take the girls to Salem, Mass. to explore everything witches. I mean, Hocus Pocus is our jam! But navigating through the narrow roads of Salem, complete with our 40 foot camper attached, was more anxiety than I care to ever experience again. I’m still not certain how we made it through that entire city without clipping another vehicle- and not running someone over.

We tried to experience as much of Salem as we could in the short amount of time we were there. Parking was a joke, especially when you have a big ass truck like our Ford 250 that just barley fits in a parking spot. If you aren’t aware, Salem is a tourist trap luring us in with folktales of witches with pointy hats riding broomsticks during the full moon. *Fun fact: Our first evening in Salem, August 26th, was in fact our best night here, because we were lucky enough to watch the full moon rise above the horizon as we sat upon the boulders at the beach. It was a pretty amazing moment other than our youngest asking what she could have as a snack when we returned to the camper. #perfectfamilymoment #snacksareimportant

After visiting the Salem Witch Museum, we learned that 20 innocent people were sentenced to death because young girls were bored, made up stories, and were overly dramatic. But what I believe is the worst, in my own opinion, is that Salem, as a city, is bored just like these young girls, selling stories and the ideas of witches to make a revenue. In all honesty though, this is why we were visiting this city, to learn more about witches. I should have done more research before coming here, which explains why I was more disappointed about the city once I learned more about the situation at hand. My husband tried to explain it to me as a non-Christian having a Christmas tree or selling Christmas goods at their store when they don’t necessarily believe in Christmas. “But has anyone died from Christmas?” I ask. His response was, “well, what about Black Friday?” Touche, Mr. Lombardo. Touche.

 

Being a local vs Being a tourist

We do our best to live like a local wherever we set up camp. I’m not sure of the real reason why, other than that we aren’t “vacationing.” We are still living, working, running errands, and all of that other day to day jazz, like going grocery shopping, do a Target run, and finding a place to do laundry. As Chloe and I headed out Monday morning, we quickly realized that being a local here sucked. Maybe because it was Monday. Maybe we just ran into a bunch of grumpy cats in Salem. Maybe it was just their faces. I guess sometimes being a local means enduring all the grumpiness of having to be said local. Not everyone we saw seemed to be angry at the world, we actually ran into a few people who weren’t kicking the RBF. By a few, I mean two. However, instead of letting this get us down and act like a “local,” we embraced our endearing southern traits, smiled at every single person, and were just overly polite and friendly. It was fun and it took my fellow morning joggers by surprise with my overly caffeinated morning greetings.

Once we traded our local status for being a tourist, we realized why you can’t always be a local. In order for this relatively small and historic city to thrive, they need us to continue to visit and spend money, and as we headed out to explore and grab dinner, we tested our theory. We strolled through town, where shop owners smiled and were kind. Yeah, maybe because we were spending money in their shops. But as we enjoyed our delicious dinner at Rockafellas (We highly recommend the Marinated Sirloin Tips and the Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread!) our server and the host, were beyond pleasant and suggested great places to visit while we were in town. Maybe it was because we were tipping them. Whatever it was, it was refreshing compared to the day before. Before heading north, the girls and I headed back to the center of town to check out the Salem Witch Museum, in order to have a better understanding of the events that took place over 300 years ago. Our theory was confirmed by everyone we ran into. The kind lady, who worked at the museum, gave us suggestions on what to do before the presentation began. It was also confirmed by a man who worked at a local shop, when he went out of his way to give me suggestions on what kind of local beer to purchase.

Maybe we all had a bad case of the Mondays. The only difference between Monday and the rest of the week, was where we were. Monday was spent in the laundromat and Target. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in the center of the city, where all tourists would be wandering from museum to shops to walking tours to restaurants. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. This was simply our observation that we made and is not meant to insult anyone. We all get grumpy at times, and if you know me, you know that “some” times means most times.

 

If you aren’t feeling your location, move! Unlike living in sticks and bricks, we can change our scenery

As we pulled into Winter Island “Campground,” we realized that we had made a terrible mistake. I say campground loosely, because it was more of an afterthought, since it was also a marina, historic site, and a public beach. Honestly we had read a lot of bad reviews on Google about this campground, but I have also read bad reviews about most of the other campgrounds we have stayed at. The only difference was that this one wasn’t going to sit well with us at all. 

Our campsite was on top of a steep hill, overlooking the parking lot of our fellow campers and came complete with a picnic table,  broken glass, and trash. Perfect for the kiddos. Since this campground didn’t offer full hookups- no sewer, we planned on using the bathhouse, which is why we chose our location, it being the closest camper site to the bathhouse. Well, the map was severely outdated. Not to mention the bathhouse was a freaking joke. The women’s room has two stalls with crap locks for the entire campground, anyone using the marina, and all who came to the park. Even better, there were more shower stalls than toilets. Seriously. But you know, there were a few porta potties scattered around the area, and as long as you had the treasure map with you, you had a good chance of finding them. Needless to say, after our first visit to the bathhouse, we opted out of that option immediately. Because this was a park and marina, it was congested with cars and people, even worse on the weekends. It stayed pretty busy throughout our stay, which is why I can’t blame people for visiting this park. It offered a sandy beach, a lighthouse, and cool rocks to sit upon and watch the boats. But this wasn’t our cup of tea, which was fine, because we can leave whenever we want to.

 

Old Orchard beach, ME

Although our reservations were through Saturday in Salem, we packed up Wednesday evening and quickly hit the road heading further north towards Acadia National Park. By heading two hours north away from our current location, we cut off a lot of drive time we would have to do during the holiday weekend while heading to Bar Harbor, ME. Thankfully Joseph found a KOA in Old Orchard Beach, right off the highway. We don’t typically stay in KOA’s because they are a bit pricey, but after the last place we were ready for some luxurious accommodations- like full hookups. Oh, having full hookups! Daily showers, not stressing about washing dishes, and most importantly, not having to leave the comforts of your home to use the bathroom.

The last part of the week turned out being one of the most memorable foodie parts of our adventure thus far, because of the LOBSTA ROLLS! Best. Meal. EVER! Not only were we seated outside on a deck overlooking the ocean, but Chloe had a clear view of the rollercoaster, which she found to be completely fascinating. The local brews were good, as was the chowder, but it was the Lobster Rolls that won the spotlight that evening. Neither one of us had ever had a Lobster Roll before that evening and after that one, I don’t know that we can ever try another one without it being a runner up to the rolls at The Shack. This restaurant is teamed up with a local fishing company that brings them lobster straight off the boat each day, where they cook it and pick it in house. Never frozen and always amazing. How can you even beat that? 

Ok, all caught up. Talk to you soon!

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