It was now time to take a break from the weekly travel up from Florida and living in the RV. Our next stop was just about a hour and a half further north to Hampstead, Maryland where my son, William, has recently bought a home in the rural countryside. He had only been living there a few months and we had not yet seen his new place, although we had seen pictures and heard about from Nikki who had already been there. The trip was uneventful since we stayed away from major cities and traveled mostly on US highways and county roads. William had taken the day off of work, so he was there to greet us and make sure we did not miss it. As we pulled into his driveway, he exclaimed “I did not realize how big it is.” We make a pretty impressive sight on those narrow, winding, country roads. Fortunately, William and Kristen have bought a home with over 5 acres of land for their horses, so William had no problem pulling the RV into the front pasture to turn it around and park it next to the house. We immediately had to take a tour of the two pastures and hear about his plans for improvements. Since it already has a stable for Kristen’s horse, their main efforts will be to rehabilitate the pastures and replace the fencing around the front pasture. I have to admit the view from their home, with the rolling terrain and backdrop of large hills in the distance was impressive. Their home is also very nice and they have begun the process of painting and making other improvements. For instance, they had just recently completed painting the guest bedroom where we will be staying for the next two weeks. The rest of the day we got caught up and made dinner to greet Kristen when she got off work.
On Tuesday, our focus was to get a few things done that we had been waiting on. In the morning we found a Urgent Care Clinic in Westminster and got our physicals done. Most importantly was the bloodwork to check our cholesterol levels. This work very well taking less than an hour, once we got into the clinic. When we showed up the fire alarms were going off and everyone had evacuated the building. I don’t know what the problem was, since the firemen showed up and quickly reopened the building. It must have been a false alarm? I also made an appointment to get the 5000 mile maintenance done on the truck at a local repair shop in Hampstead. Since William and Kristen were at work, we enjoyed lazing around on our old leather couch (which William had taken when we got rid of everything) and watching TV. Once William got home he introduced us to a new game, XXXXX. Kal and I enjoyed this game a lot since every game is different. You begin as a group exploring the house where both good and bad events happen. At a random point in the game suddenly changes. In most of the scenarios one player is identified as the traitor. This player is then given an objective from the rules book for traitors and the other players have their own opposing strategy. The game ends when either the traitor or the other players meet their respective objective. We found that it needs to be played with more than 3 players as there was little chance to beat the traitor with only two other players. Still it was an interesting game and different then anything I had ever player before.
William had planned on taking Wednesday off since it was Kristen’s day off. We were looking to do something different then traveling all the time, so we spent most of the day working in the yard. Kal got to ride their lawn mower and did a good job cutting the grass in their yard and front pasture. Kristen and I attacked their fence along the front of the pasture removing the boards which were rotting out and needed to be replaced. To begin with we were trying to save the boards as much as possible, so it was slow. Once we decided they were not worth saving we really got to work and started to make progress with breaking the boards off their posts. William rotated from helping Kal, whipping and putting roundup on the fenceline and assisting Kristen and me. After lunch we set up our outside table, which we had not got out of the box yet, and our awning in the backyard and played a couple of games of spades. It felt odd to once again do yard maintenance after being essentially “on vacation” for the past six months. It was fun.
On Thursday we took the truck into the garage and spent another day hanging out at Williams while they were at work. This gave me the chance to try out the relatively new Final Fantasy game on William’s Playstation. This is an on-line game very much like WOW that we had enjoyed playing with members of my family (Suzy and Robin in particular) and I was anxious to try it out. I really enjoyed it, which is unfortunate since on-line gaming is simply not an option with the RV. Our data plan with Verizon would not handle the traffic needed and I suspect the band width would make play difficult. When we picked up the truck, we found out it was leaking coolant. They told us it was the seals around the exhaust system that on a Diesel engine get very hot to control pollution and have to be cooled. Replacing the seals is normal after 70,000 miles, but would have to be one at a Ford Dealership. However, it was not harming the engine so long as we added coolant and the leak did not get worse. Therefore, we decided to wait since William and Kristen would be working and we would need the truck to do our site-seeing.
William decided to take Friday off from work, so we talked him into taking us into Washington D.C. As you probably know if you have been reading these blogs, we have already spent a number of days in D.C. in the past couple of years, but there is still a lot to be seen. Our main objective on this trip was to visit the Smithsonian Museums and we had already started with the Air and Space Museum out at Dulles airport the week before. However, since William had already seen most of the museums on the National Mall, we decided to visit Ford’s Theater instead since he had been there before. With William to guide us through the trip to and in the subway system, we had little problem getting there. After walking to Ford’s Theater we found we had to get tickets for the museum and theater. The tickets are free and are used to control the number of people in the museum at one time. I was surprised to see the number of visitors at Ford’s Theater on a Friday morning on the first of May, since all the other National Park sites for the past 6 months had not been heavily attended, especially during the week with the children in school. However, this was not the case here. There were long lines and even the Visitor Center was crowded. Consequently, we could not get tickets until 2:30 in the afternoon, which left the whole morning open. So we walk a couple of blocks to the National Portrait Gallery, which is a Smithsonian Museum that William had not visited before and were there when they opened the doors at 10:00. I am not a big fan of art and art museums are not high on my list of venues to visit, however, there were a couple of exhibits that I did enjoy. The most interesting were the portraits of all the Presidents. While I could recognize most of the Presidents, those between Monroe and Lincoln I don’t know, as well as many of those between Grant and Hoover. They also included historical information about their Presidency, which I found interesting. Even then, we were only able to walk through about 2/3 of the museum in the couple of hours we had before going to lunch and making it back to Ford Theater.
As I am sure everyone knows, Ford Theater is the location where President Lincoln was shot just five days before General Lee surrenders to General Grant at Appamatox Courthouse in 1865. John Wilkes Booth leads a band of conspirators to assassinate not only President Lincoln, but also Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward. Seward is wounded, but the assassin assigned to Johnson cannot bring himself to carry it out and flees. Ford’s Theater and the Patterson House across the street where Lincoln was taken and died the next morning are parts of the National Historic Site. Back in high school, I went on a trip where we watched a play in Ford’s Theater and they still hold plays there today. However, the rest of the Theater is nothing like I remember it, of course this was over 40 years ago. Today they have an extensive museum in the basement of the Theater, where exhibits lay out the entire Civil War from President Lincoln’s perspective. After seeing all the Civil War Battlefields in the Eastern Theater in the past year, it was neat to understand it from Lincoln’s viewpoint. He was frustrated with his generals and other commanders going through quite of a number of them before General Grant in 1864. I was able to fill in details about his choices over the years of the Civil War and understand his frustration with not being able to end the war when the Union held a large superiority in manpower, arms, and ammunition and through a tightening blockade was denying aid to the Confederates. After the history of the Civil War, there are exhibits that detail the conspiracy of John Wiles Booth and the events leading up to the fateful day. You then ascend up into the theater where you can get a view of the box in which Lincoln was shot and listen to a Park Ranger detailing the event. Then it is across the street to the Patterson House where you start with the events that night and the next morning seeing the room where Mary Todd Lincoln spent the night worrying and the back bedroom where he died. They have interconnected this house with the one next door to provide additional space to then detail the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth over the next couple of weeks, ending with his death in a barn. From their you descend to a floor with memorabilia from the event including the contents of President Lincoln’s pockets. Finally, you descend around a very large stack of books that have been written over the years about Lincoln. I knew a lot of books had been written, but I was still impressed with the three story stack of them (even though close examination showed some of them were repeats). We did have to deal with the traffic between D.C. and Baltimore on the way back and I was glad that William was driving. I cannot imagine having to deal with that on a daily basis, but William seems to be resigned to it. It does give him a chance to listen to audio books, so it is not a total waste of time.
Saturday was another day of work for Kristen, so we hung around the house and Kal got to watch her fill of EPL soccer, which she has greatly missed over the past few months. We did get to see a game now and then when NBC covered it, but for the most part she has not gotten to watch it as she has the past couple of years. At the same time I got to play Final Fantasy for most of the day, which was certainly a joy.
On Sunday, we went to visit Kristen at work at the Paradise Stables. Up until last year she had been working at a horse rescue. While she enjoyed this work, the facilities were not the best and the management of the rescue left a lot to be desired. After getting fired from her job on the barn staff for reasons that ultimately turned out to be wrong, she eventually found a position as Barn Manager at Paradise Stables. To state this is a step up from the horse rescue would be a huge understatement! The stables, pastures, indoor training facilities, and general working environment are outstanding. It is obvious the owner really cares about the facility and has the money to support it. During the winter, Kristen was able to stay overnight at the stables with free room and board when the weather was nasty and even got to board her horse for free until her new place is ready. I suspect the horse owner’s pay a lot to board their horses there. In addition, Kristen is in charge of the barn operations and is much happier then the continual “drama” at the horse rescue (did I mention she is also being paid better?) It is a great improvement and I am very happy for her.
After a couple of hours at Paradise, we traveled west to the Catoctin Mountain National Park. Like Prince William Forest south of D.C., Catoctin Mountain is another example of the Federal government moving farmers on marginal land to better farmland and providiing work for the CCC and WPA during the Great Depression. However, unlike Prince William Forest, these recreational camps were not taken over by the DOD during WWII. Instead, one of the camps was improved and made into Shangri-La, a retreat for President Roosevelt to use during the summer to get out of D.C., yet remain close enough during the war. Under Eisenhower it was renamed Camp David and is still used today as a Presidential retreat. Consequently a large part of the National Park is not accessible by the public, but the remainder has miles of mountain hiking trails and a nice winding road through the park. Unfortunately, the road was closed the day we were there, for unknown reasons since it was open when we left, so we were limited to only those few trails that could be accessed from the Visitor Center on the highway. From there they have two trails. One that leads straight up the mountainside which was out of the question for our 60 year old joints, and one that goes to Cunninngham Falls. This was a nice trail and certainly challenging enough for us, although William had to patiently wait as we rested a number of times since it was uphill to the falls. The biggest disappointment was that the trail paralleled the highway, which provided constant traffic noise (especially motorcycles) even though it was out of sight much of the time. The falls themselves was worth the hike, even though it has been unusually dry this spring. It was also odd that the falls are actually in Cunninngham Falls State Park, which has its own trail to the falls. Both trails are boardwalks with railings at the falls and the surprising thing was they did not connect even though they were less than 50 feet from each other! Why? After an afternoon of hiking we decided to meet Kristen for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.
Monday was William’s birthday, so it was his choice of what we were going to do. After dropping his car off at a garage to check the brakes, we ran over to Westminster to pick up our lab results. While Kal’s were complete, it tuned out that they failed to request the cholesterol screening for me. Since this was the major reason we went to the doctor, this was unacceptable. Luckily the lab still had the blood samples and could get the tests ran in a couple of days. We also dropped by the pet store to pick up their bladed dragon pet, which had not been eating since they bought him the week before. Everything seemed to be fine and he was eating know. We suspect the problem was an old UV bulb over the tank. The rest of the day was up to William who choose to do nothing for his birthday except to go out to dinner, which was fine by us. His birthday dinner was at The Ale House in Columbia, Maryland which was a fantastic place. They had some great ales they make themselves and I had the best macaroni and cheese with sausage I have ever had. The spinach and artichoke dip was pretty awesome as well. I for one, had a great time celebrating my son’s birthday!
Tuesday, William was back at work, even though the brakes on his car were still not right. They had replaced the master cylinder on Monday, but the brakes were still not right. While they were at work, Kal and I traveled back into D.C. to visit some more Smithsonian Museums. Our goal was to see both the Air and Space Museum and American History Museum in a single day, so we would not have to travel back into the city again. While not entirely completing everything we would like to see, it would finish the major items off our list. Starting with the Air and Space Museum since we had already seen the larger museum out at Dulles Airport, we figured we could see it before lunch. Even though it is 20% of the size of the Udvar-Hazy Center, it is still a very large museum and doing it in just a couple of hours is not the way I like to see museums. Kal can walk past and catch just the highlights of an exhibit, where I like to read every word. Thankfully, she kept close to me and kept me moving, so we did see most of the highlights of the museum. They had an extensive exhibit about the space race with Russia ending with the landing on the moon and the training unit of the Landing Module. I enjoyed the exhibits on the milestones in aviation which included Lindsburg’s Spirit of St. Louis and one of the planes flown by Amelia Earhart. Another room was devoted to the early years of flying with the Wright Brother’s original plane from 1903 and other early planes and engines. We did not even go into some of the rooms due to lack of time, but we did see the World War II exhibit about the life and myths surrounding the combat pilots. I certainly could have spent more time there. All together we got a very quick, at least for me, visit to the Air and Space Museum followed by a quick lunch in their cafeteria.
After lunch we walked down the National Mall to the American History Museum. Again we had only a couple of hours before we wanted to catch the subway and try to get out of the city before the evening rush. Although they did a great job with the permanent exhibits that were open (some were closed while we were there), I was disappointed overall with the museum. I expected to be totally overwhelmed with the number of artifacts I know they have in their collection, but more of the museum was devoted to explanations of the history or impact of the artifacts they did display. The transportation exhibit was impressive from the John Bull locomotive to the cable cars, automobiles, and buses. We saw an early Airstream trailer that is certainly is MUCH smaller than our fifth wheel. It squeezes in a kitchen, dinette, and bed in a pull along trailer that was only about 15 feet long! I guess they were as popular then as they are now. In the exhibit about the maritime industry, a volunteer pointed out to use the original sliver of gold that started the California gold rush. It is so small that we missed it and had such a huge impact. There were also a lot of great models of ships from every time period in our history from all over the country, including a round canoe used by Indians made from hides. There was an exhibit about the first recordings made by Alexander Graham Bell and the technology they have recently used to decode the recordings, absolutely amazing. In the center of the second floor is the actual US Flag that flew over Fort McKinley during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. We learned about this flag last year when we visited Fort McKinley and it was great to finally see it. Even though we only spent a couple of hours in each museum we were both wore out and still had to deal with the traffic jams on I-95 to get back to William’s. We made it though, although I would not want to do it every day!
Wednesday was again Kristen’s day off and William took the day as well to deliver his car back to the garage to continue the work on his brakes. Fearing the outcome, they had decided it was time to look for another car so they went to the Mazda dealership to gather some information. Meanwhile, Kal and I worked outside during the day. She continued her work mowing the yards and I went to work cleaning the outside of the RV. It had not been cleaned since Florida and was due for a good cleaning. Once they returned from the dealership, William and Kristen got to work on finishing a sign for use to hang on the RV. It is a sign that says “Somers” made out of bent horseshoes and mounted on a piece of wood. The wood was painted blue and the letters painted orange in Auburn colors. In the afternoon, William and I convinced the women to let us continue a new game of XXXXX. We had started a massive game the day before and wanted to continue with the same characters. This game is a version of D&D set in the days of the Wild West. Your characters go on missions exploring caves and even other worlds through portals. A bit strange in concept, but well designed for a D&D game without a dungeon master.
On Thursday, William’s car was still in the shop so he had the day off and went with us to Delaware. Unfortunately, there are no National Park sites in the state of Delaware, which I find surprising, but I wanted to visit the state anyway. So we decided to check out Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge on Delaware Bay. Expecting to go on some easy hikes of a couple of miles, I was surprised to find out that this National Wildlife Refuge is basically a 12 mile drive through the tidal marshes and around the freshwater ponds with only 5 short hikes. The freshwater ponds were constructed with dikes and causeways to provide the ability to manage the water levels in the freshwater ponds. This way they can adjust the level of the ponds to promote plant growth over the summer to enhance the wildlife habitat for migrating waterfowl in the fall. There are three observation towers around these ponds that provide an excellent view of the habitat from above the trees. We were surprised to see the large number of grassy mounds scattered throughout the tidal marshes and even along the edges of the ponds. They look like small beaver lodges, but they are made of grass not wood. They are the homes of muskrat which are becoming a problem for the refuge due to their numbers. We had been told to be on the lookout for a bald eagle, which was suppose to have a nest on the property. While we did not see the nest, we were treated with an opportunity to watch a bald eagle on the ground across the pond from us. We tried to get some pictures and went along a trail that should have brought us closer, but unsuccessfully. We did manage to see three snakes, one up a tree, one on the ground, and one on the road, all of which did not please my son at all. In any case, we had a very enjoyable day in Delaware with my son and it is another state I can cross off my list.
William had to take Friday off again since the used part they installed in his brakes was not specifically for his model leaving the ABS light on. This would destroy any value as a trade-in so they were going to have to use the bottom half of his old system with the top half of this used part. Go figure!! In any case we were stuck at Williams for the day, so I cleaned the inside of the camper while he painted the sign and Kal continued the mowing. In the afternoon we continued our marathon game to a logical conclusion and got if finally off the dining room table before we went to bed that night. Saturday was much like Friday, with Kristen working and Kal, William, and I working in the yard. William and I finished removing the boards from their fence and Kal finished the yard (at least for a week when it will have to all be done again). Kristen had Sunday off, so we all packed up in our truck (William’s car was still in the garage!) and headed to Hampton National Historic Site, which is just north of the beltway around Baltimore. I think we all found something at Hampton to remember between the Mansion, gardens, and buildings on their Home Farm. The Mansion was the home of six generations of Ridgelys dating from 1790. When completed the Hampton Mansion was the largest family home in the United States and was not located in any city of the time. Today it is within the metroplex of Baltimore, but then it was in the center of the woods and field of Maryland, a days journey from Baltimore. The original builder, Captain Charles Ridgely survived only a year after the Mansion was completed and had no children. The entire estate was willed to his nephew Charles Carnan who had to change his name to Ridgely in order to inherit it as stipulated in the will. Charles Carnan Ridgely continued to expand the family’s wealth and land holdings, serving as Governor of Maryland for two terms from 1816-1819. At this point their enterprises included an ironworks, quarries, farms, coal mining, and mercantile covering over 25,000 acres and 300 slaves making it one of the largest plantation in Maryland. The Mansion was used to impress his guests and business associates and it is easy to see why it worked so well. The opulence of the dining room alone was amazing with the wall paper scene depicting a fantasy of life along the Seine. Since it does cover six generations, each room is dedicated to one descendants and they did a great job displaying appropriate artifacts in each room. It is also amazing that nearly all of the artifacts are the original items and they have many more in storage. The gardens were not very impressive, being so early in the spring, but they will be spectacular later on, I am sure. Finally, the slave quarters, dairy, and the home of the Overseer at the bottom of the hill from the Mansion were also interesting showing again the changes over time. It was interesting to learn that they were designed to resemble a small village such as you would see for the serfs in Europe, all in order to provide a good view from the Mansion!! This extended even to a fake chimney constructed over the dairy, which did not need a chimney since its purpose was to keep the dairy products cool in the summer.
Looking back, our time at William’s was more than I could have hoped for. Partly because of the problems with his car, which were not fixed until the following week when they immediately traded it in on a new Mazda, and partly because he wanted to spend time with us, we got to see a lot more of William they we expected. Unfortunately, Kristen had to work most days, so we did not get to see her as much as we would have liked. We got a needed break from traveling all the time and helping in the yard was a welcomed change. William and I also got to spend hours playing board games and games on the playstation which we have always enjoyed when he was growing up. Unfortunately, this also meant I did not have the time I expected to get caught up on this blog. I arrived at William’s two weeks behind on the blog and left his house four weeks behind. At the time of this writing, we are now in New York and I when this is completed I will be still three weeks behind. With as many sites we are visiting at each stop, it is difficult to catch up. What a problem to have!! Hope you are enjoying reading about our travels, even though they are a few weeks old by the time I post them.