Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Quick Stop in Allentown

Continuing on with the road trip that I took from Boston to Nashville, and back, this month for a conference! Starting from the beginning…..

A Quick Tour through Virginia
Snippets of Civil War in Knoxville

Nashville’s Civil War History at Fort Negley
Nashville’s Centennial Park
Some of Nashville’s Military Burial Places
Old Salem

The Booker T. Washington National Monument
The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA

After a long day tripping around the Bedford region of Virginia, taking in plenty of history, courtesy of Booker T. Washington and D-Day, I headed northeast for my final evening on the road.

My destination was Allentown, PA. Not exactly a tourist trap, but it allowed me to  get within 5 or so hours of home. So not too much driving left for the following day.

My home for the night was the Red Roof Inn – actually my first time at one of their hotels. I was pleasantly surprised. It was late when I arrived, almost 10pm, so I didn’t have any time or energy to take advantage of the fact that the hotel was located in the same parking lot as a mall, as well as a Baskin Robbins.

There wasn’t much time for anything other than just collapsing in a small heap on the bed to watch a little TV before sleep. I’m not much of a TV watcher in general, but when I’m away I enjoy the luxury of literally having nothing to do. When I’m not in my own home, I have no reason to feel that I should be doing something productive. So it can be nice just staring at a TV for half an hour.

Next day I was up bright and early, ready for the final leg of my drive, but I’d wanted to see something of Allentown. I like to think that every town has a story to tell, and therefore has something worth seeing.

The center of town is quite run-down. It’s clear that its 1980s boomtown days are over, and what obviously used to be a great area for shopping, is now no more. Typical of many peripheral towns, these areas have now been superceded by the big malls, with big stores leaving downtown areas for mall life. My local big town of Worcester, MA is like this – it’s a big city, but has never been able to rejuvenate itself back to what it was probably like in the ’80s. The convenience of the big shopping malls just can’t be beat.

Allentown has a high crime rate too – apparently it’s twice the national average in every category. Most of it seems to be gang or drug-related though, as opposed to random acts against visitors. I was there at about 9am and didn’t feel unsafe in the town, although I wouldn’t have been wandering around in the dark alone at night with my camera. But I don’t tend to do that anywhere, regardless of the crime rate – I like to be as sensible as I can!

The town is relatively small and easy to walk around though, so if you felt like a quick wander, it wouldn’t take long. And it’s arranged in a grid system of parallel, one-way streets, so it’s not too confusing to follow, although can be frustrating to drive in if you don’t know the area and end up in the wrong lane for an upcoming turn!

It’s funny, I spent the first five years of my time in the US in Philadelphia. I know it’s only about 60 miles from Allentown, but driving around the town really had a certain “feel” about it that reminded me of Philly. The grid system in the downtown area, for one, and also the architecture of the old townhomes.

But my main reason for being downtown was a single focus on visiting their Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Center Square.

You know I never pass up on a bit of history wherever I am, and this is a fabulous monument to witness, especially amidst the general decay of the town’s center. This has been a part of Allentown’s heritage since 1899, and was first intended for those Lehigh Valley men who fought in the Civil War (1861-1865). Later though, its intent extended to include all other wars, and all veterans in general.

It’s hard to miss in the center of town, it’s enormous. Yet sadly, I imagine that all too many people do miss it. Or they miss its message. I was lucky enough to be able to capture it on another beautiful, bright day. It was chilly though, and I needed a heavy coat for the first time in days.

On my way out of town, I stopped at a local Wawa. This brought back some memories for me – Wawa is a convenience store chain, popular in the Mid-Atlantic states, so they’re all over PA. And they’re named after the town of Wawa, PA which was the location of the company’s first milk plant and corporate headquarters. The name of the town apparently comes from the Ojibwe word for Canada Goose – hence the picture on their logo.

When I worked at UPenn, there was one on the corner next to my building. I was a regular visitor for my coffee and snacks, so it really conjures up “Philadelphia” in my mind! So I bought some coffee to take home.

After a quick pit stop there, it was back to Massachusetts. And the decreasing temperatures, along with the increasing gas prices, were strong pieces of evidence that I was heading northeast!

I finally arrived home at around 3pm. It was odd being home again after 10 days away. But it’s always nice to get back to your own routine, and of course, your own bed. And Tiddles, my cat, is always “pleased” to see me when I first get home from a trip. Although it’s usually not long before she returns to her normal, evil self.


The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA

Continuing on with the road trip that I took from Boston to Nashville, and back, this month for a conference! Starting from the beginning…..

A Quick Tour through Virginia
Snippets of Civil War in Knoxville

Nashville’s Civil War History at Fort Negley
Nashville’s Centennial Park
Some of Nashville’s Military Burial Places
Old Salem

The Booker T. Washington National Monument

While driving through Virginia on my way out to Nashville, I saw a sign for the National D-Day Memorial. Well you know what a sucker I am for all things history, so this seemed like it would be right up my street, and a “must see” attraction.  Since there was no mention of how many miles away it was, I took the  exit and stopped to grab a coffee and estimate the detour time. I discovered that it was about a 45 minute drive away. Sadly I couldn’t fit an extra few hours into that particular day.

On my way home, however, I drove much the same route, and when I once again came upon the sign, I decided to go for it.  It was only late morning, and I could easily fit an extra 3 hours into my travels – yes it would mean I’d be getting to my hotel late that evening, but that really wasn’t a problem. I had no idea when I might be out in that area again in a car, and I wasn’t about to miss out on the opportunity to visit now. Getting to the hotel late seemed like a small price to pay.

And was I glad I decided to make the trip! The National D-Day Memorial is simply breathtaking.

It’s not just “a monument” – the place is huge – a whole series of monuments that depict the timeline of events at that time.

The memorial is also set within fabulous grounds, with a beautiful English-style garden at the back.

You need at least an hour to do any justice to the place, so don’t just try and swing by for 10 minutes, or you’ll be very sad to have to leave so quickly! And to add to its beauty, it’s located on the top of a hill, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop. A wonderful location to soak up all the history.

Although I’m a history buff and tend to be slightly biased about places like this, I can honestly say that I think this memorial should be on everyone’s bucket list of places to see. Everyone should make the trip, not only to see this beautiful memorial, but to pay a small tribute to those who gave so much for us during WWII.

And in the center of the memorial grounds is an oval arrangement of plaques that list the name of every one of the 4,413 Allied soldiers who died in the invasion. Very poignant to see.

Go and visit whenever you get a chance – if you’re not somewhat local to the area, it’s a little off the beaten track, but I promise you will not be sorry that you made the trip. It’s located in Bedford, VA because this was the town that suffered the highest losses per capita on D-Day. And even though there’s been some controversy over that claim, who cares! It doesn’t need to be proven or disproven – Bedford clearly lost a relatively large number of soldiers that day, as did many other regions of the country. What matters is that we have a monument like this in the first place. And the location is just beautiful. Very fitting!

I had the added benefit of absolutely glorious blue skies when I was there. The memory of my visit will be hard to fade. I can’t wait to go back one day with M, I know he’ll love it.

The Booker T. Washington National Monument

Continuing on with the road trip that I took from Boston to Nashville, and back, this month for a conference! Starting from the beginning…..

A Quick Tour through Virginia
Snippets of Civil War in Knoxville

Nashville’s Civil War History at Fort Negley
Nashville’s Centennial Park
Some of Nashville’s Military Burial Places
Old Salem, NC

Heading through Virginia I decided to take a detour to visit the National D-Day Memorial, and en route to it I came across the Booker T. Washington National Monument. What the heck, I already knew I’d be in for a long day anyway due to my detour, so another hour wasn’t going to harm me!

What a beautiful place to visit and to commemorate the birthplace of this country’s most prominent African American educator. The National Park Service website sums it up nicely: “On April 5, 1856, Booker T. Washington was born a slave on the 207-arce farm of James Burroughs. After the Civil War, Washington became founder and first principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School. Later as an adviser, author and orator, his past would influence his philosophies as the most influential African American of his era. Come explore his birthplace.”

He was born a slave on this small farm in the Virginia backcountry, and it’s maintained in such a way today as to demonstrate what life was like on this recreated 19th century tobacco farm.

After emancipation he was a child worker in the salt furnaces and coalmines of West Virginia. He was determined to find an education though, and traveled 200 miles, eventually arriving broke, tired, and dirty at Virginia’s Hampton Institute. He worked as a janitor there in order to pay his board and tuition, and actually became a star pupil.

He had the idea that education would raise his people to equality, so he then became a teacher. He first taught in his home town, then at the Hampton Institute. In 1881, he founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. As head, he would travel the country to raise funds from blacks and whites, and eventually he became a well-known speaker. Ultimately he became the most influential black educator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by way of the control that he had over the flow of funds to black schools and colleges.

A fantastic “rags to riches” story about a man who clearly did wonderful things for this country. I’m so glad I came across this park. Watching the educational video in the visitor’s center left my spine tingling.

Spreading The Christmas Cheer Around

These days I buy very few Christmas presents – just for a couple of loved ones. Christmas used to be a nightmare for me. Over the years I’d accumulated a large number of people who I would buy for, and many of my friends also had anything between one and three children. It would end up with me buying for about 25 individuals each year. And naturally I’d have to mail out the majority of those, find appropriate boxes for toys etc. And since my family and many friends are in Britain, the cost of mailing would be ramped up for those folks.

I don’t even want to admit to how much money I’d end up spending on presents and postage each Christmas. Not to forget the stress of the shopping. I really don’t like shopping at the best of times, so when I’m forced into action, it’s even more painful. And I’d have to start around early October so I could gather a few every week. It was getting simply ridiculous. And those same 25 or so folks – I’d be doing similarly for their birthdays each year too!

Eventually one year I lost it. Enough was enough. The cost was tremendous, as was the pressure to be organized – I’d literally have calendar alerts on my phone every month, reminding me to buy and mail someone’s present! It wasn’t just about “me” though, it was bigger than that. As I’ve gotten older, the “extreme Hallmark-ing” of Christmas has hit me more and more.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the festivities and gift exchange, but the intensity of it all is just bizarre these days. Now it seems that an iPhone is a mere stocking stuffer for many kids! Gone are the days when kids would have tangerines and chocolates in their stocking.

So anyway, I decided to go cold turkey. A few years ago, after one Christmas was over, I contacted everyone for whom I’d usually buy presents, and announced that I’d no longer be doing so for Christmas or birthdays. And instead, I’d be making donations. I said that if anyone had any particular charities that they’d like me to donate to, I’d be happy to do so. And similarly, I asked those folk who’d buy for me, to also stop. And if they just had to think of me at Christmas or on my birthday, they too could donate in my honor instead.

I can’t even tell you the amount of joy this process brought me. The stress of all the present organizing was instantly gone. And most importantly it felt so much better knowing that my money was going to some charity each birthday month, as well as at Christmas.

So I’ve donated to a number of different charities this Christmas, as well as throughout the year in honor of birthdays. And a few weeks ago I did package up a big box full of holiday goodies that I’d bought for a bunch of Marines in Afghanistan – that felt nice sending some cheer overseas!

I know this idea isn’t for everyone, and I realize that the economy has left most people financially short, but even if you can spare one or two dollars every so often to add to a charity box, it will make a big difference to someone.

One of my favorite ways to help, is through the Green Beans Cup of Joe for a Joe program. For just $2 you can send a coffee to a random military servicemember overseas, along with an accompanying note. And you can pay via PayPal, so they make it easy. They have an online store too, so I actually bought some coffee for myself a few months ago.

I sent out a number of Cups of Joe for the holiday. It’s a very sweet way to put $2 to good use.

So if your friends or loved ones are deployed, encourage them to sign up for this program so that they too might get a smile in the form of a coffee one day!

Hope everyone’s Christmas holiday is continuing to go smoothly!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I hope Santa has been good to everyone this year, in whatever way you wished for – whether it’s a favorite book you’d hoped for, or being able to spend some quality time with someone special, or even just a treasured phone call to someone far away.

Wishing you all a peaceful holiday.

Ashby, MA

A while ago I came across a couple’s blog that was dedicated to visiting all of the 351 towns in Massachusetts (or maybe “municipalities – cities and towns, but not villages” is a better term). Given how I already love nothing more than jumping in the car and visiting somewhere new aroundabout New England whenever I have some free time, I decided it would be fun to make a pointed effort to gradually check off all the towns myself. One day when I get some down time, I’ll have to list them all on here somewhere, and start a new page or category, or something……one day….

Anyways, after morning coffee, today brought a jaunt “up north” to the town of Ashby. It’s only 30 or so miles north of me, and was quite a nice drive since I took some of the back roads rather than just the highway. I love these little towns – they tend to have the obligatory town common, inclusive of pretty white church, like only New England can make!

This one is First Parish Church, built in 1809 to serve as the town’s meetinghouse. The obelisk-style monument in the foreground is a dedication to John Fitch, an early settler in Ashby, and the town’s first moderator.

And let’s not forget the cute little bandstand. Complete with Christmas tree and decorations to nicely commemorate the festive season.

Just behind the church was an amazing little cemetery. It’s also known as the “Old Burial Ground”, and for good reason, since it was established back in 1767. Wonderful old slate headstones – and I so love how they look when they’ve gathered decades (or even centuries) of moss!

Some fun facts about Ashby? Apparently it was the home of Ruth Henshaw Bascom, America’s premier folkartist and portraitist. And there’s also Prince Estabrook, an enslaved African-American patriot who gained his emancipation due to his service to the Continental Army. And incidentally, he’s also buried in the old graveyard above – he was wounded in the Battle of Lexington.

And across from the bandstand, there’s also a nice memorial dedicated to all veterans.

The day started out rainy, snowy, grey, and overcast, and then suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, we had bursts of bright blue sky and sunshine here and there. So that felt good!

On the way home I needed some coffee, and this formed a great excuse to catch a beautiful sunset.

It was nice to get home again eventually. And by 7pm I found myself enjoying a nice glass of red wine.

I felt like I deserved it for coping with Mark! That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

So it’s Christmas Eve today – I’m heading down to CT with Mark. We’re visiting his aunt and uncle in Stamford, so I’m looking forward to meeting them before we fly out west on Christmas day.

Hope you all have a restful day with those who mean the most to you.

Christmas Vacation Begins

Ah, I love ending the year with my saved vacation days……..I finished work Tuesday night, and thanks to a combination of university holidays, and vacation days that I’d specifically saved, I don’t return until January 3rd.

My vacation started out with my usual Tuesday evening USO shift. It was a nightmare trying to just get to Boston’s Logan Airport – huge lines of traffic awaiting arriving passengers. I ended up ducking into an “official vehicles only” throughway (where all the hotel vans go to make pickups) just so I could exit at the other end and get to the parking lot near USO. Otherwise I’d have been waiting for the about 30 minutes. And the traffic wasn’t much better trying to get out a few hours later, but at least my exit wasn’t as time-sensitive as my arrival! Clearly the Christmas traffic insanity has begun.

But it was nice and peaceful in the USO lounge, and I even managed to get a bit of work done (I suppose no vacation is ever a true vacation when you work in academia, although I do try to keep my vacation time as sacred as possible). And the lounge looked nice and festive, especially with all the holiday cards that were handmade by local schoolkids – very sweet!

Yesterday was off to an early start with a gym visit, although I cut it short – been having lower back pain this week, so I ended up at home popping some ibuprofen instead. And after that I drowned my sorrows in some coffee with pumpkin spice-flavored creamer, and all seemed much better!

There were chores to catch up on in the apartment, and I also managed to take my non-perishable food collection to our leasing office. Every Christmas I donate food to our local Worcester Food Bank. Last year the hair salon that I use made it easy for me since they had a drop-off box there, so I killed two birds with one stone when I went for an appointment. This year it’s even easier for me – our apartment’s leasing office has a collection point, so I only had to wander across the complex with my box. That was a great move on their part.

In the afternoon I also got to meet up with my holiday catsitter. My usual catsitter is away for Christmas, but she kindly referred me to a friend. So this nice young lady visited me so she could meet Tiddles and see where things are kept. Tiddles is usually very low-maintenance for others, but loves to push my buttons when we’re home alone together! But nobody ever believes me when I tell them of the chaos she causes.

The evening brought a haircut for me  – very exciting! Maybe the first time I’d been able to just sit down and do nothing all day, it was quite nice in that respect.

Meantime, I’m waiting for Mark to arrive from upstate New York. We’re heading to deepest, darkest CT to visit his aunt and uncle tomorrow, and then we head north back to Boston to fly out to San Francisco on Christmas evening. We’re off to Yosemite National Park for a few days. Can’t wait! Although I’m sad because there’s no snow there yet, so I won’t be getting the winter wonderland that I was hoping for. But that’s ok – the weather seems to be bright and sunny, so I think we’ll have a fantastic trip!

And it’s going to be nice having Mark around for maybe 10 days or so. At least that’s how I feel now. Ask me again in 10 days time……

Old Salem

Continuing on with the road trip that I took from Boston to Nashville, and back, this month for a conference! Starting from the beginning…..

A Quick Tour through Virginia
Snippets of Civil War in Knoxville

Nashville’s Civil War History at Fort Negley
Nashville’s Centennial Park
Some of Nashville’s Military Burial Places

After tripping through the Smokey Mountains for a while, I ultimately continued to head east, ending up in Winston-Salem, NC, for the evening. I arrived quite late, so there was no time for exploring then – I was all about curling up with a glass of wine at that point after another long drive!

But next morning, I got up bright and early, and headed off into Old Salem for an hour. It’s a beautiful historic district where you can take a step back in time and experience some early American history – with lots of buildings, churches, shops, and costumed workers that form a living museum dedicated to the culture of the Moravian settlement in North Carolina during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Moravians were a Protestant group that had their beginnings in Europe, in the region we today know as the Czech Republic. They founded Salem in 1766, and apparently kept meticulous records and written accounts of their lives, enabling their stories to be recounted like this today. The district itself was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

Additionally, the Salem Tavern is one of a couple of buildings in the community that has actually been designated individually as a National Historic Landmark. The tavern had one especially famous guest when George Washington stayed for a couple of nights as he was passing through in 1791!

It’s lovely just wandering around the town, soaking up all the history in its restored buildings.

The town’s St. Philips African Moravian Church is the oldest African American church still standing in NC – it actually turned 150 years old on December 15th this year – and one was one of the first in the country. Its cemetery is something to behold. Known as “God’s Acre”, the Moravian term for grayeyard, it is quite a sight when you first arrive and see the thousands of identical headstones arranged so symmetrically.

I was so glad that I took an hour or so for an early wander around this beautiful historic district. It’s a stark contrast to the surrounding skyscrapers and hustle-bustle of city life. It’s well worth carving out some time for a visit if you’re in the Winston-Salem area at any point.

A Loop Around Cades Cove in the Smokey Mountains

Continuing on with the road trip that I took from Boston to Nashville, and back, this month for a conference! Starting from the beginning…..

A Quick Tour through Virginia
Snippets of Civil War in Knoxville

Nashville’s Civil War History at Fort Negley
Nashville’s Centennial Park
Some of Nashville’s Military Burial Places

I finally finished up with meetings early evening on the last day of the conference. I’d decided ahead of time that rather than stay at the hotel another night, I’d just hit the road for maybe 3-4 hours – that way I’d get a head start on my long drive east, and those few hours would be put to more productive use than simply vegetating in the hotel room for the evening.

So I ended up driving to Sevierville, TN. I’d picked the location quite randomly, based mostly on how far I wanted to drive that evening. It turned out to be a very lucky choice. The Sevierville region itself was very interesting! I knew nothing about the town before I arrived, but quickly learned about it just driving through to the hotel. It’s kind of Dolly Parton country, so had all that kind of tacky, fun stuff going on around the town, as well as a huge outlet mall literally next door to the hotel. So if that’s the kind of stuff you enjoy, it’s a great location for you to get your shopping fix and your Dolly Parton kicks!

Next morning I also discovered that I was pretty close to the most popular place in the Smoky Mountains – Cades Cove. So I decided to take some time to head out there – I certainly didn’t want to miss the chance to see it while I was so close. Who knows when I’d ever get back there again?

I was so glad I drove out there anyway. Cades Cove is an eleven mile, scenic loop road on the valley floor in the TN Smokey Mountains, and it only took about 30 minutes for me to drive there from the town. It was another absolutely glorious day of bright sunshine and blue skies, so was perfect for the drive and to capture the scenery in its full glory.

As I headed closer to the mountains, there was obviously some elevation gain, and there was an increasing amount of fallen snow around, especially once I got into the cove itself. It all looked beautiful.

The cove is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and is well-known for its amazing mountain views.

Before the Smokey Mountains National Park was formed, however, it was home to many early European settlers, and in addition to its wildlife and scenic views, it is still home to some very well-preserved settlers’ homesteads.

Way out in the distance at the end of the path you can see John Oliver’s Cabin – the first cabin in the Smokies, set up by two European immigrants who were the first settlers to this part of the mountains. The two little guys in the foreground weren’t pleased about me invading their space, by the way!

There’s also Elijah Oliver Place – son of John! Seems he was one of those charitable kind of folk that aren’t so commonplace nowadays – he had a “strangers room” built on his front porch. Basically a hospitality room for fisherman who’d come to the cove and be in need of lodging.  Talk about a good example!

There were various other historical structures throughout the cove, including a couple of churches. I loved the Primitive Baptist Church – and incidentally, the Oliver family is buried in the cemetery behind it.

So there’s lots of interesting history to be had in Cades Cove. But I have to say that the surrounding scenery is so breathtaking that it just draws you out there.

The loop road is a one way, single track road with a low speed limit. Apparently it can take as much as four hours to get around in the height of tourist season! It probably took me an hour and a half, maybe two hours – it wasn’t busy at all, but being the nosey photographer that I am, as usual I was in all kinds of strange places looking for vantage points for photographs! You could easily wander around at a leisurely pace and take in the scenery in about an hour.

Oh and just in case you do head out there – there’s no gas station once you get into the cove, so don’t arrive on an empty tank! Immediately at the start of the loop road, there’s a parking area where you can buy a brochure about the cove for $1 – it points out all the historic sites and gives a little information on each of them, so it’s worth getting.  There’s also a visitor center about halfway around, with restrooms, but other than that, you’re on your own.

A truly lovely location – swing by sometime if you’re in the area. I promise you won’t regret it.

Worcester’s Bancroft Tower

Today was a beautiful day in our little metropolis, so after the gym, and then a trip to see some friends this morning, it was time for coffee and a chilly, 23 degrees, winter walk. So I headed off to Bancroft Tower in nearby Worcester.

I’ve lived in this area since 2005, and believe it or not, never knew this place existed until late 2009 when I found a random mention of it online. It’s close to where I live, only about seven miles away, and I visited it for the first time in January 2010. Today I decided to check it out again since it was such a beautiful day for photographing stuff outside.

As you can imagine, there’s a bit of a story behind the tower – it was built in 1900 by Stephen Salisbury III in honor of his friend George Bancroft. Bancroft was born at the bottom of the hill where the tower is located, and during his life he held the posts of Secretary of the Navy and US Minister to GB and Germany. Additionally he was the Founder of the US Naval Academy.

Haven’t been up there for quite a while, and I’m glad I did today. A few other folk seemingly had the same idea – there were dog walkers out and about, as well as some folk who clearly just wanted to hang out and enjoy some peaceful time up there.

It’s amazing to see this place – it sits on top of a hill in a residential area in the town, and there are houses literally on either side of it. What a lovely building to have as a neighbor! I suppose it’s the closest thing to a castle that we have in our state.

And I have to admit that I have a real penchant for bright blue winter skies! You can’t beat them when it comes to photography. It really was a perfect winter day.