Unexpected Vacation: Harpers Ferry and the Baltimore Museum of Art

A little over a year ago, almost all our family (Jake excepted) took a short vacation together.  Going on vacation all in the same car was something we thought we’d sworn off forever, but this was a quickly planned journey.
John’s uncle was sick, and he wasn’t getting better.  John felt strongly that we needed to get up to Baltimore to see him, and soon.  It turns out he was right.
We had a wonderful couple of visits with Uncle Boh.  He’d been in the hospital right before we arrived, and had to go back almost right after we left, but he was home while we were there, and we were able to share meals and conversation.  It was truly a blessing, as he died less than two weeks later.
We couldn’t burden Uncle Boh and Aunt Barbara with our company the entire time we were in town, obviously.  So we took the opportunity to see some sights.
Even when you’ve spent as much time visiting one place (Baltimore) as we have, there’s always something new to explore if you look! We visited Harpers Ferry, West Virginia one day and the Baltimore Museum of Art the other.
John and I had been to Harpers Ferry close to 30 years before, but I had only the vaguest memories of that rainy day visit.  We were blessed with incredible weather this trip, which made for some beautiful pictures that I am excited to share here.  Unfortunately, my waiting so long to memorialize this trip means that this post will be long on pictures and short on explanations.
If you’ve heard of Harpers Ferry at all, it will be in connection with John Brown and his failed attempt here to abolish slavery via armed insurrection.  You’ll learn plenty about those events if you visit.
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That, obviously, is the man himself!  Below you’ll see the building where he and his men holed up.
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Harpers Ferry is full of history with displays in several of the buildings on the main street.

There are also shops and restaurants to explore along the main thoroughfare and side streets.  Harpers Ferry is a stopping point along the Appalachian Trail so there is some serious hiking gear available.
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There’s an historic home to visit and a church (and the remains of a church) to investigate.
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Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, it’s also a place of extraordinary natural beauty.
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Looking back at this visit one year later, I still remember how beautiful everything was and how happy we were.  It was one of those perfect days.
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The next day we stuck closer to home base, and visited the Baltimore Museum of Art.  I can’t think why we’d never been there before.  It’s not because of the kids, because our kids like that kind of thing.
Here’s some of what we saw outside:
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Inside there were several sections to explore.  We saw sculptures and other three-dimensional expressions of art:
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The collection of the kind of paintings most people probably think of when they hear the words “art museum” was indeed impressive:
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But they also have interesting collections of art from Africa and Asia:
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They also had a great modern collection that we had to rush through because we were supposed to be somewhere.
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But that’s okay, because now I have a reason to go back there!
And don’t worry, we didn’t leave Baltimore without taking part in the essential summertime ritual:
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REVIEW: Ripley's Odditorium in Baltimore (SPONSORED)

If you are my age, you probably grew up reading the Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon in your daily paper.  I can remember being fascinated and excited by Ripley’s observations of the curiosities from all corners of the globe.
So I was very excited to have been given the opportunity to take my family to the new Ripley’s Odditorium at the Baltimore Harbor when we visited there for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday last month.  I was given the tickets (at 27.99 per person for the four of us, this was a big perk, I’ll admit!) in exchange for my honest review.  My opinions are my own.
It was a beautiful cool afternoon (amazing for May) when we approached the museum, which was not there the last time we visited the Inner Harbor.  We enjoyed the breeze and the beautiful sights.
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The museum is located on Light Street, right in the heart of everything as you can see, an easy walk to food, shopping, and the other attractions.  We also were able to find parking close by, but be prepared–it’s not cheap.
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Now, one of the things I was secretly thinking is that Ripley’s didn’t really belong in downtown Baltimore.  Visiting there instead of the Aquarium (for example) seemed akin to going to McDonald’s for supper instead of eating crabs.  But as you can see above Ripley’s has done their homework to make this Odditorium special and integral to the Harbor.
The sea monster is Chessie, rumored to be a resident of the Chesapeake Bay.  And this was one of several local touches we discovered.
We started by looking at the wax models and other displays in the lobby before heading up the staircase to discover more treasures.
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We saw another local touch almost immediately–this reprint of one of Ripley’s columns on the wallpaper!
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Chessie got a whole display to herself!
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Another local-themed display showcased the life and art of Johnny Eck, a Baltimore native who performed on the freak show circuit back in the day.  It was a sympathetic and nuanced portrait that made me want to learn more about Mr. Eck.
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The variety of exhibits at a Ripley’s Odditorium is astonishing.  You never know what you are going to find around the next corner.  There are many human oddities, like Mr. Eck and these photos below:
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There are examples of human ingenuity, like this giant penny made of pennies and this replica of Hogwarts Castle made of matchsticks:
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And there are genuine artifacts from all over the world, both rare and old, that Robert Ripley collected on his travels, like these items pictured below:
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Ripley’s also goes the extra mile to entertain, covering every inch of the space right down to the bathrooms:
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There are also many interactive exhibits, both old-fashioned and newfangled!
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We spent about an hour and a half going through the museum.  We (John and I) could have spent much longer–it’s 15,000 square feet, after all!  But the kids were always running ahead, all excited, and calling back to us to see what was around the next corner.
Our tickets also entitled us to a visit to the 4-D Moving Theatre and the Marvelous Mirror Maze.  The Maze was fun, and not too difficult to navigate although we did lose John at one point.  It didn’t take very long, though, and I expect you might be disappointed if you paid for just that experience and it was over so quickly.
I had no idea what to expect from the theatre.  It wasn’t my cup of tea (because that kind of thing makes me nauseated, frankly!) but I thought it was very well done.  It’s like an Imax theatre only the seats also move and there some other effects that I will leave out lest I spoil the surprise, but it was a very realistic experience, probably worth the price of admission.
We had a great time and I am happy to recommend the Baltimore Ripley’s Odditorium (in fact, I DID recommend it to John’s cousin later that afternoon!).
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But if you go, watch out for Chessie! BELIEVE IT . . . OR NOT!

April Goes out with a Bang!

Well, this has been another banner week for me, y’all!
Monday was my birthday, and who doesn’t like having a little fuss made over them?  Especially when the fuss includes TWO bouquets and a homemade cake (Emily made it).
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Tuesday I published a post related to the situation in Baltimore, and not long after I cross-posted in to BlogHer I got an email telling me it was being featured there!  This was HUGE for me because I’ve never had anything featured anywhere before.  And it just keeps getting better, with my post being the most popular in News and Politics for two days now and almost 1,200 reads!
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On Wednesday, Knoxville (that’s my hometown, y’all!) got named to yet another top ten list.  I have a post where I keep an ongoing list of those (BECAUSE THERE ARE JUST THAT MANY!) so I quickly updated it and posted it to my favorite Knoxville Facebook group, almost quadrupling my page views for that day (which still amounts to small potatoes to many but was a lot for my blog).
And then on Thursday my friend JcCee nominated me for the Premio Dardos Award!
Premio Dardos (that’s Spanish, y’all!means “prize darts.”  This award recognizes cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values in the form of creative and original writing.  That sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it?
Unlike many blogging awards, this doesn’t come with a list of questions for me to answer.  I don’t know why JcCee chose me specifically for this award (which I am so honored to accept), but it’s prompted me to think about how I share those values on this blog.
As many of you are aware, I started this blog when the column I had been writing on life issues for my diocesan paper for several years was canceled.  This blog gave me the opportunity to broaden my focus (and boy did I broaden it!).  But the truth is that I still consider blogging to be a ministry, at least some of the time.  My ethical values are on display in posts like this one.  Posts like this reflect my cultural values.  My personal values are evident in parenting posts like this one.  As for literary values, I’ll leave that one for y’all to decide. 🙂
And now it’s my turn to nominate some bloggers to receive this award.  Y’all don’t have to do anything special, just acknowledge who honored you (that would be ME) and share the love with some other bloggers.  I choose the following four women to receive this award.
Lizzi of Considerings: Life in Silver Linings
Crystal of So-So Mom
Amy of Planning Playtime
Kelly of The OK Momma
Let’s make it even easier . . . you don’t have to do anything AT ALL if you don’t want. 🙂  Just know that this award means that I admire you and your writing and I am happy to know you.
Ten Things of Thankful

Violence in Baltimore

Featured on BlogHer.com
Am I the only person in America who is having a little problem with this?

Please understand, I am NOT bashing this mother.  I am sure she loves her son and was concerned for his safety and his future.  I’m not accusing her of abuse, or saying that her parenting caused her son to be a rioter, or advocating that he be removed from her care.
I am thankful every day that there are no video cameras recording my parenting.  I have slapped my kids.  I have screamed at them.  I have said mean things to them.  Sometimes these tactics were effective at stopping whatever misbehavior motivated them–temporarily.  I doubt they produced lasting change, or if they did it wasn’t for the right reasons.
But seriously, am I the ONLY ONE (I think I might be, judging from every comment I’ve read on this video) who sees the irony in applauding an angry and violent outburst against a child who just engaged in an angry and violent outburst?  Aren’t riots themselves proof that violence begets more violence?  If we want justifiably angry people to channel their anger into peaceful solutions, isn’t that the behavior we should be modeling?
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Please join the discussion on this post at BlogHer.
Fridays Blog Booster Party Featured

Hey It's Good to Be Back Home Again . . .

. . . after ten days away! (about which much more later, I hope!)
The last time we went to Baltimore, our house burned down.  So I think we were all a little nervous and were happy to come home to this:

Two of three kitties have yet to put in an appearance, though, so say some prayers that they come home soon. (Yes, we had someone caring for them while we were gone.)
The primary purpose of this trip was to look at colleges for Teddy, a rising senior, and I will write more about that in another post.  This made for a lot of driving and hotel changes and being at places at certain times, which made this a less relaxing trip than last year’s.  It was the kind of vacation you need to recover from.
We started last Saturday and drove straight to Baltimore, arriving too late to do anything more than crash.  We made two changes in our usual vacation protocol this year, two expensive but necessary changes:  we drove two cars and booked three rooms.  For years, John and I have shared a room with the little people while the three big kids stayed together. This time, Emily shared with the kids, Jake and Teddy were together, and John and I were blessedly alone until the last couple of days when we took William off Emily’s hands to give her a much-needed break.
We have a minivan that seats seven, but with the size of our boys, the amount of stuff we needed to bring (and knowing we would be acquiring more before we came home) and the fact that some members of our family are irritable while others are irritating, we had Teddy drive his car as well.  So the big kids followed us and Teddy did a spectacular job of driving in unfamiliar and challenging territory.
So last Sunday we indulged ourselves in our hotel’s outdoor pool for a few hours before heading to John’s mother’s house.  We visited for awhile then went out for crabs.

I’ve loved crabs since my very first crab feast 25 summers ago, and now the kids love them too and are quite expert at picking them. (What exactly some of the stuff is that we are discarding doesn’t bear thinking about.)  Even William, who takes picky to a-whole-nother level, LOVES crabs.  After dinner, we went back to Grandmom’s house for dessert–which means four or five different choices!
Our first college visit was the following morning, just a day trip to Georgetown, our alma mater, only an hour away in D.C.  We followed that with a trip to a monument the kids didn’t even know existed, visiting Theodore Roosevelt Island.

We drove around D.C. for awhile.  Traffic was bad and parking practically impossible.  Jake struck out on his own to see the Lincoln Memorial and the White House, while the rest of us drove to the Tidal Basin (where parking is free) and took a quick look (and a bathroom break) at the Jefferson Memorial.  There’s a nice museum at the lower level that is new since my last visit.  Next time we do D.C. we will remember to leave the car and take the Metro.

The plan was to head back to Baltimore for supper, but we just happened to see an old college favorite, The Dubliner.  After we parked we learned there was an hour wait!  So we went next door to another Irish pub instead.
We departed Baltimore for New Jersey on Tuesday, stopping there just long enough for a college visit at Princeton University before heading to New Haven, Connecticut.  The following morning was our Yale University visit, and then we drove to Warwick, Rhode Island.  We were so tired by this time that John and I and the little kids just chilled at the hotel for the evening–John took them swimming–while the big kids went out exploring and finally to a movie.
The next morning was a real highlight of the trip for me.  An online blogging friend–Laura Rossi–learned I was in her home state, and took the time to come to my hotel to bring me a muffin and have coffee!  We had a great time talking and our visit was much too short.  I still smile when I think about it.
After we checked out we drove into Newport, Rhode Island.  It was frustrating that all our visits had to be so brief this time.  There is so much to do and see in Newport, where I have been before because I have family in the area (who I wish I had had time to visit!).  Right now I am so exhausted that I don’t even want to think about traveling, but I know we need to get back up to some of these places for more leisurely trips in the future.
Anyway, our main purpose for the Newport visit was to try a new beach.  We went to Easton’s Beach, which the locals call First Beach.  I think it might be my favorite beach of all time.  From the parking lot to the water is only a few hundred feet!  I’m used to trudging what seems like miles over hot sand to get to a place to sit.  It’s also a narrow beach, almost like a cove, so even the big boys couldn’t get out of sight.  And yet there are plenty of good waves.  We could have done without the red seaweed that remained in the little kids’ hair until the next day, but we had a lovely few hours there.

After washing off the sand we went for a short drive to see the Newport Mansions from the outside, then parked downtown and found a place to have dinner.  We would have liked to walk around afterwards because there are tons of shops there but we were just too worn out, and we still had to drive to our next stop before bed.
The next stop was kind of a dump in Malden, Massachusetts, just past Boston.  Seriously, we drove through the exciting lit up big city and across a cool bridge with purple lights and then we were all like, what kind of neighborhood are we staying in?  It didn’t look as bad by daylight.  But hotels any closer to Boston are very expensive.
Boston roads are full of those traffic circles and we did have a small amount of trouble finding our way but we made it to our appointment at Harvard University the next morning in time.  When we were finished there we took the T (that’s Boston’s subway) to Beacon Hill to have lunch at Cheers.  It’s a tourist trap, really, but still kind of fun to say we did it.  The sad thing is that the show ruined the pub that inspired it.
After that we had big plans.  I’ve been to Boston before–the only one in my family who has–and I wanted to take them on the Freedom Trail.  We were all really excited about it.  Except this was the first really hot day of the vacation.  And we were full.  And worn out from the rigors of the trip so far.  We started walking through the Public Gardens to Boston Commons and by the time we found a bathroom everyone was so wiped out that those crappy motel rooms were starting to seem very inviting.

So we trudged to the nearest T stop, rode back to Harvard Square, went through an unbelievable ordeal and paid $27 to retrieve our car (we took only one car unless we were traveling between cities), and drove back to the lovely Econo Lodge, where we ordered Indian food for the little kids (the best meal of the trip, per William) and Chinese for the rest of us and vegged in the AC the rest of the night.
That brings us to Saturday, when we drove from Boston all the way back to Baltimore, where we were lucky to find rooms given the storm which had left hundreds of thousands of people without power and looking for refuge from the searing heat in all the local hotels.  We got there in time for an evening swim before going out in search of dinner, and then it was back to the hotel and a late night for me doing laundry as we were all almost out of clothes.
Sunday included swimming and more laundry, and then we met the family at Squire’s, an old favorite of theirs and of almost everyone else in Dundalk as far as I can tell.   Then we went by John’s grandmother’s house (which his mother is working on clearing out and selling) and acquired some new possessions while Jake and Teddy carried several heavy boxes down to the basement.  Finally it was back to Grandmom’s for more dessert and conversation.
John wanted to stay an extra day but he was the only one.  The rest of us were very anxious to get home, and it took us about eleven hours yesterday to accomplish that, counting multiple bathroom stops!
So far today I’ve already driven Jake across town to pick up his girlfriend, gone grocery shopping, done multiple loads of laundry, and written some client letters.  But I’m so happy to be home that it’s all good. 🙂

Good morning, Baltimore!

Baltimore, Maryland was not a place I ever thought much about growing up.  I doubt it was on my list of places I wanted to visit.  But I married a man who was born and raised in Baltimore, where his mother and other relatives still live, so I have spent a lot of time there in the past 23 years.

John and I both went to Georgetown University, an hour away from Baltimore barring traffic mishaps (there are almost always traffic mishaps), so when we were dating, and then engaged, our visits there were frequent.  And we lived in Alexandria, Virginia for the first year of our marriage, and continued to be able to make it to town for holidays and family events, or just to visit.  Even after Emily was born, for awhile we made it up three times a year or more.

Moving seven people over 500 miles and paying to feed and house them for a week is a more difficult and expensive proposition.  For many years now our visits have had to be limited to once a year for the most part.  We have learned to avoid holidays, which are stressful and don’t make for the best visits.  So now our yearly summer vacation is spent in Baltimore.

Being the thrifty homemaker that I am, I discovered Hotwire years ago and can almost always score motel rooms at $50/night, usually at the same Days Inn in Glen Burnie (just outside the city) that has become our home away from home, with its big pool (yes!) and free breakfast (essential).

Because John’s mother lives in a small rowhome and our big family can be overwhelming in such tight quarters (okay, anywhere, really!) our visits have evolved to our spending the day doing something fun as a family and then meeting the Baltimore folks either at a restaurant or at the house for dinner.  They especially enjoy sharing new restaurants with us, but one evening must include crabs.  Even Lorelei is happy to pull the legs off her crab and use the hammer to smash the claws.  Picky William ate four crabs last night.

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is loaded with fun things to do, like the Maryland Science Center and the Baltimore Aquarium.  We’ve also visited the Walters Art Museum and the grave of Edgar Allan PoeFort McHenry is a great historical site, and the kids enjoyed seeing the tanks at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds on this trip.

Baltimore is a Catholic town, so we also enjoy the great variety of churches to choose from when our visit includes a Sunday.  We’ve most frequently visited Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which is close the the motel we stayed at when the kids were small, but we’ve also been to St. Mary’s Star of the Sea, the Basilica of the Assumption and a Tridentine Easter Mass at St. Alphonsus.

Growing up in Tennessee, which takes eight hours or so to drive across, it’s hard for me to get used to how close together everything is up here.  But it makes vacation even more fun, with access to all the attractions in D.C. like the Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo, and the three hour drive (theoretically) to the beaches of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.  Over the years we have hit Wildwood, Ocean City (both of them!), and Rehoboth Beach.  We drive to the beach in the morning, swim till we are tired, then walk the boardwalk before driving back to Baltimore.

The neatest thing about our visits, though, is seeing the relationship the kids have with their family here, especially with John’s paternal grandmother, who is 92, looks 72, and is in complete possession of her feisty personality.  When I asked William what he was looking forward to about vacation, he didn’t even mention the pool or the beach.  He said, “Seeing everybody.”  It warms my heart to see the smiles on the kids’ faces when we walk into their grandmother’s house.  Even seeing family here so seldom, our children have a bond with them.  You would think they might “get crabby” about vacationing in the same place every summer, but they don’t; they enjoy it.

Check out this link for more tips on fun in New Jersey–100 of them, to be exact!