Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day

This Labor Day weekend we had to miss out on one of favorite things about living in California: Attending the Strawberry Music Festival near Yosemite. However, we did drive 30 minutes north to Lawrence, Ma. where we attended the annual Bread & Roses festival. The festival commemorates an important strike that happened in the mills there back in 1912. The strike not only succeeded in winning the strikers demands, it helped ignite the movement for new child labor laws, safety laws, and a host of other reforms.

Today, of course, most of the mills are empty and like seemingly every town in New England, the locals are trying to attract commuters to live in mills converted to lofts with fancy shops underneath. At the music festival itself, the crowd was enthusiastically pro-union -- and mostly in their 50s and 60s. Great to see their passion, but also a sad commentary on where unions stand today that there weren't more younger people there.

We opted to pass on some of the heartier fare offered by the local vendors at the festival: fried twinkies, fried oreos, fried snickers.

Maybe this is the real reason the labor movement is in trouble: clogged arteries.

In any case, we heard some great music that was very Strawberry-like. In particular, we enjoyed the folks rock sounds of The Mammals, a group that apparently includes Pete Seeger's grandson, and worth checking out. We still missed Camp Naked Babies at Strawberry, but this was a nice consolation prize.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Better Living Through Ice Cream

We've returned from Vermont, I'm happy to report. It was a wonderful trip, with the added twist that it could well be our only extended chance to travel while we're out here. "No!" you cry. But probably 'tis true. Jen will be quite busy and spending much of her free time studying. And with Kalian still on the boob, the three of us can't just go galavanting about the New England countryside on our own. So while we'll still get out for the odd day trip somewheres, this might be our only true vacation.

And it really snuck up on us. We've been so damn busy, that it really only occurred to us a couple days before Jen's summer session ended that this might be our only chance. So I forced Jen and the kids into the car and we headed out on Sunday, not knowing exactly where we were going or what we'd do when we got there. After madly consulting maps and guidebooks as we got on the freeway, we found ourselves heading north through New Hampshire en route to Vermont. As with such spontaneous trips, there were plenty of wonderful, accidental discoveries, and almost as much hair pulling in frustration trying to figure out what to do and where to go. And the weather was a bit drizzly for most of the four days we were gone.

So, we found ourselves the first night in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont. Not only is it the smallest state capital (population 8,000), but we're still not sure how you actually pronounce it. It's so small, you expect Howard Dean to be standing on the corner personally shaking your hand when you arrive.

We stumbled into a wonderful B&B where we put the kids to sleep and then passed out on the couch watching the Emmy's. Party on, dude.

Ah, but in consulting our maps the next morning, we realized that we were only a short drive from Nirvana. Yes, that's right: the Ben and Jerry's factory.

We checked out of the B&B and drove on over. It was nice, a fairly small place. We went on the tour which was quite brief, and led by a tour guide whose disposition seemed to indicate he had drawn the short straw that morning. At the end, we got a free sample of ice cream that is being developed: Apple Pie. It was all very Willy Wonka.

Here's Kalian's first bite of ice cream:

Here's her second. The addiction took hold pretty quickly:

From there, we drove northwest to Burlington, for lunch and a brief stroll along the shore of Lake Champlagne. Like many New England mill towns, the city is desperately trying to convert all its abandoned mills into yupppie shopping centers and condos. Bad for the working class; lucky for us as we had no trouble finding a lunch spot.

We then drove madly in circles trying to figure out where to go next. After a couple of hours of frustration, we somehow wound up at Shelburne Farms, a cooperative farm just south of Burlington, which just happens to have some old inn straight out of "The Shining." And which just happened to have a room open. This was apparently a rare circumstance, prompting us to pay an obscene amount of money to stay there:

But it was beautiful, and the next morning, we went over to the farm, where Liam found plenty of tractors to amuse himself. Kalian seemed more delighted by the animals. It was quite an amazing place, actually, built by some richy riches as a model farm about 100 years ago, and now a working cooperative and museum.

We took a hayride, and then drove down to the street to the Shelburne Museum, the region's other major attraction (aside from hiking, mountains, etc. which were sort of off limits due to weather.) The Museum is sort of a wacky mini-town they've created with old buildings preserved and then relocated to this spot. There's an old sawmill, and old train and station, stable, etc. Of course, there was also an old steamship that they somehow dragged three miles from the lake:

From there, we drove back south to Brattleboro, another mill town trying to make the transition to yuppiedom. It's recently been in the national news because it turns out they forgot to outlaw nudity there. As such, the local teen scene has spent the summer wandering around downtown nekkid. For better or for worse, it was raining during our short stay, and everyone remained clothed. We slept in a funky Victorian hotel and then drove back into Massachusetts the next morning where, after some more wrong turns, landed in Everett State Park where we took a spectacular hike, ate lunch, and then played in the lake. The weather finally turned sunny, and it was a fabulous end to our trip.

We're back now and settling in. Kalian's day care coop starts Friday. Liam's new preschool starts next Wednesday. And Jen is trying to pick her classes. So now that we've figured everything out, it will all change again.

For your additional viewing pleasure: During the trip across the Vermont countryside, we saw about 10,000 tractors, which, of course, has fueled Liam's love of all things tractor related. We've been making a whole new line of tractor attachments from Legos, including a harrow, a cultivator, and most important, a manure spreader: