Posted by: jacquelr | September 24, 2007

A Year in New England

Autumn Days in a 1792 Farmhouse

Every fall the maple trees in New England turn crisp and vibrant, and woodpiles stack high, ready for winter. At our home, a fat porcupine sat perched between branches, eating the last of the apples on the tree.  

In 2003 we moved from one US corner to another: offered a one-year job near Lyme, NH, we relocated our family near the Upper Connecticut River between Vermont and New Hampshire. We rented a farmhouse over 200 years old, situated on 11 acres of New Hampshire’s rolling hills, and saw the colors of New England first-hand.

Puffy and bright, the red clusters of faraway sugar maples blended with stunning yellows and oranges. Late September and October are brisk and color lavish, and for my three boys, leaping in 11 acres of crunchy leaves was pure joy, something they’ll never forget.

Lyme, NH


Posted by: jacquelr | September 11, 2007

1925 New Windsor, IL

Town Characters Yesterday and Today

In the heart of Western Illinois prairie country, it is May, 1925, and Cyclone Bill climbs his 40-foot observation tower of junk and packing boxes, reaching the top to see what’s new in town.


His neighbors in New Windsor, pop. 400, are men like Spit Wellit, Skunk Peterson, and Pickle McLaughlin (nicknames are common—there are some 80 Petersons and 70 Johnsons in this mostly Swedish immigrant township).

Cyclone, named for his disarray of lumber, rusty steel drums and rickety wheels, is the wheelbarrow collector of scrap nobody wants, and the town’s tower observer of the week’s events.

A few days ago Park Hickok’s horse slipped near Cyclone’s tower, breaking Park’s leg and sending him to Doc Rathbun. W.W. Lutrell is delivering ice, and at the Lutheran Church a few blocks away, Miss Mabel Coleman plays piano for the 12-graduate class of 1925.

As part of its 150th birthday celebration in 2007, New Windsor brought back the peculiar Cyclone, town doctor Rathbun, and musician Miss Mabel Coleman on its Aug. 13 cemetery walk.

Town residents portrayed costumed characters with acts and speeches. 

I couldn’t attend, but Aunt Nancy, one of the cemetery walk organizers, handed me a May 23, 1925 Rock Island Argus newspaper with the real news of Cyclone, Doc, and Mabel, a look back at pioneer life gone by. 

Posted by: jacquelr | September 10, 2007

A Beach Fire in Seattle

Summer’s End in Ballard

Piling wood into a five-foot ring, we settle into beach chairs, taking in the shoreline, sailboats, and peach Puget Sound sunset. It is an effortless campfire picnic.

We’re at Golden Garden Park on Labor Day weekend, a park on-the-shore with first-come-first-served fire pits. My friend Colleen and her family join us.

It is a low-key outdoor evening, neither of us entertaining: hot dogs, s’mores, and chuck wagon beans (baked beans with beef and onions). Unpopular at dinner a few days ago, the leftover stick-to-your ribs beans are a hit warmed by the fire.


The boys toss a football and the girls turn sandy cartwheels, summer vacation a fading memory.

Golden Garden Park, Seattle

Posted by: jacquelr | September 4, 2007

Arsenal Island, Rock Island, IL

A Mississippi Island of Weapons, Wars, and Pioneers

In Western Illinois recently, our cranky and uninspired kids showed little interest in military or fur trading history, much less visiting an island in the middle of the Mississippi River. We rallied, promising dramatic machine guns and canons.

Arsenal Island is a 946-acre national historic landmark, and an active US Army facility, manufacturing and storing military arms since the Spanish-American War. With 198 buildings and production capabilities in foundry, forging, machining, and finishing, it is the USA’s largest government-owned arsenal.



Arsenal Museum: The second-oldest army museum in the US, after West Point, showcases components for rifles and saddles, machines guns and rocket launchers:

  • Hundreds of glass-cased, mounted guns and rifles.
  • The haversack, a leather mess kit for 19th century soldiers.
  • Rifles used by Sioux or Cheyenne Indians at the Battle of Little Bighorn in the 1870s.
  • A “WWII Women of the War” exhibit.
  • A children’s museum, with civil war clothing, saddles, puzzles, and maps.

Confederate Cemetery: The Union Army operated 21 prison camps during the Civil War. From 1863 to 1865, the Rock Island Barracks held 12,000 Confederate Soldiers. 1,900 Confederate Soldiers died hundreds of miles away from home on the banks of the Upper Mississippi. Like Gettysburg, upright white headstones mark solemn graves, identified by the soldier’s name, company, and unit.

 Confederate Cemetery, Rock Island

Colonel Davenport House: Colonel George Davenport was the quartermaster and fur trader of Ft. Armstrong, a major Mississippi trading post in the 1820s and 1830s. European demand for furs such as mink and raccoon led to trading with nearby Winnebago, Sauk, and Fox tribes in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

 Fur Trading, Colonel Davenport Home

Our kids enjoyed “Math at the Trading Post,” an 1820 ledger showing the prices of pelts and other goods: 13,400 raccoon pelts traded that year at 25 cents each; $6 for an ax seemed pricey.

 Rock Island Arsenal Museum     Confederate Cemetery     Colonel Davenport House

Posted by: jacquelr | August 29, 2007

Chicago at Chateau Ste. Michelle

Photo by Julia MacLauchlan

Saturday Night at the Winery

Artists like Tony Bennett, B.B. King, and Diana Krall play at this outdoor amphitheater 15 miles northeast of Seattle, and last Saturday, Chicago brought its “rock ‘n’ roll band with horns.”  

The 40th Anniversary Tour includes sweet-tempered songs like Make Me Smile, Colour My World, Just You ‘N’ Me, and Hard to Say I’m Sorry. Classic and sentimental, the band played twenty top 10 singles, underscored by trumpet/trombone/sax instrumentals.

The words came back easily, and a rainy day cooperated, stopping just before the concert. Seating is picnic-style lawn and reserved chairs. 

Like Chicago, Chateau Ste. Michelle celebrates a 1967 birthday, with forty years of winemaking. Its vineyards are in South-Central Washington, in the Columbia Valley. The Washington Wine Commission says our state is the second largest premium wine producer in the USA.

Stevie Wonder performs this Friday.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Concerts     Chicago     Washington Wine Commission

Posted by: jacquelr | August 27, 2007

Elvis 30 Years Gone

Movies on Graceland’s Lawn,


Elvis Week 2007

“We are all there because we have a personal relationship with Elvis,” says my mom, Diane, 62, of her annual journey to Memphis.   

At the FedEx Forum downtown, the “Elvis: 30th Anniversary Concert” starred Elvis himself via video technology, accompanied live on-stage by his original backup singers, guitar and piano players, and drummer. 

Emotional and ardent—like seeing Elvis himself perform—a fan from Scotland reached over and put her hand on top of mom’s hand during his Dixieland-themed “An American Trilogy.”

Like a big Elvis family reunion, Mom meets people from all over the world.  

They “sit and listen to tribute artists in Graceland parking lot tents,” as well as watch Elvis movies on Graceland’s front lawn.


She likes the Blues City Café on Beale Street: $13.95 for half–rack ribs, baked beans, coleslaw, and Texas toast.


“Enough for two women to split,” she says. Her friend Kim brought Tupperware and a cooler to take home a few racks to Illinois.


Blues City Cafe     Elvis Week

Posted by: jacquelr | August 23, 2007

Josefina’s 1824 Santa Fe

The American Girl Place, Chicago

My six-year-old daughter and I peruse the posh café, salon, theater, and doll superstore on Chicago Avenue.

We buy the 93-page “Meet Josefina” of the American Girl series. Fictional Josefina Montoya, 9, is an Hispanic girl growing up near Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1824. We learn:

  • Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the USA and means “Holy Faith.”
  • The Camino Real Trail connected Santa Fe with Mexico City.
  • Josefina shreds yucca root for laundry soap. 

  • Mano and metate are corn-grinding stones: a hand-held mano crushes dried corn against the flat metate.

With a Spanish glossary and cultural photos, used copies are one cent plus shipping on Ages 8+.


Josefina    American Girl Place     New Mexico History   

Posted by: jacquelr | August 18, 2007

Bayou Wetlands and Katrina at Imax

Lessons From Louisiana’s Coast

My four kids are watching “Hurricane on the Bayou,” and I’m hoping for their understanding and compassion with wetland loss, coastal erosion, and Hurricane Katrina.

With no connection to Louisiana, we watched it all on TV two years ago, captivated yet removed.

Now, in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry Imax Theater, blues singer and wetlands activist Tab Benoit tells the story of Louisiana’s wetlands. Vanishing since the 1930s, marshy southern coastlines can’t slow down Katrina when it hits.

A backdrop of airboats, alligators, and personal stories frame the before-and-after, including Amanda Shaw, 14, a young fiddler, and her southern Louisiana family.

At 15, 13, 11, and 6, my kids are engrossed, and after the film, subdued and spent. I can see the older kids “get it.” My understated middle son, 13, says: “We could do a better job helping the environment.”

Hurricane on the Bayou

Posted by: jacquelr | August 15, 2007

Six Flags Line Skipping

Our $130 Family Flash Pass

A 45-minute drive from Chicago, Six Flags Great America offers a “Gold Flash Pass” to bypass ride queues: with a family of six, today we opted for the additional $130, around $21 per person. We’d buy it again, but only for our roller coaster lovers.

Seven Rides: Today, our Gold Flash Pass included Superman, Raging Bull, Iron Wolf, Whizzer, Batman, Vertical Velocity, and Roaring Rapids.

Younger Riders: Only Roaring Rapids, a family-style river raft, suited our first and sixth graders.

Normal Wait Time: Great America’s “virtual ride reservation system” advertises “a reduced wait time of up to 75%.” We waited five to ten minutes with the pass; 30 to 40 minute lines seemed average.

Sequence Rides: A hand-held device displays the seven rides; book the next ride while on the current ride.

Beat the Crowd: The park opened at 10am; arrive early for two or three rides before lines queue. Flash Pass works best once the park fills.

Humidity and Heat: With balmy 95-degree temps, our coaster riders bypassed standing in the sun.

Next time, we’ll “Flash Pass” the coaster riders, split up, and rejoin later in the day.

Six Flags

Posted by: jacquelr | August 12, 2007

Airline Trickery

Is it Fraud…

…if you blow off a flight connection? I guess so.

We’re visiting Illinois: Chicago (Six Flags, Museum of Science and Industry) and Moline (Arsenal, New Windsor Rodeo), and our route is Seattle-Chicago-Moline.

We decide to forgo the Chicago-Moline connection,  renting a car in Chicago and driving to Moline. Today, I ask the ticketing agent to send our bags to Chicago.

Cannot do, she firmly states: our return Seattle flight cancels if we don’t complete arrival connections. And, the bags must go to Moline.

I request a manager, who uses Houston and Dallas as an example: cost-conscious  travelers book Seattle-Houston-Dallas, deplaning in Houston, but booking to Dallas if it’s cheaper.

The manager approves our arrival in Chicago, but we are warned about the seriousness of “connection fraud.”

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