The Freedom Trail: Boston, Massachusetts

 

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Acorn Street

On our trip up to New England, we also got to go to Boston for one day. We drove from New Hampshire, took the Commuter Rail in, and then the subway. We wanted to walk the Freedom Trail to see the main historic attractions of Boston.

Once we had a map and got on the trail, it was super easy to follow and really did hit all the interesting spots. The trail starts in Boston Commons, the oldest public park in the U.S., designated in 1634.

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Memorial to the Irish Potato Famine

Along the trail are other highlights such as the location of the first public school in the U.S. It’s alumni include Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams. It operates today in another location where four years of Latin are still required for graduation. Another point for classical schools! I’m proud to be in the company of the great founding fathers. We also passed through Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market.

I especially enjoyed the stops at Paul Revere’s House and the Old North Church. My great grandfather was a welder on the restoration of the Old North Church in 1955, so it was exciting to go inside the church (donation based) and hear some of its history.

Another highlight was the U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) which saw service in the War of 1812 and is still manned by the U.S. Navy. It is free to enter the ship where it is dry-docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

It was interesting to observe the differences between northern and southern culture. It proved again that I am thoroughly southern. When we were trying to find the Commuter Rail, we asked a police officer for directions. A car behind us honked. The officer looked at them in disbelief then yelled, “Hey, hold on a second!” He proceeded to slowly give us directions. On the outbound train, I apparently didn’t offer my ticket fast enough because the attendant told me, “I don’t bite.” They weren’t rude, just very quick to say what they were thinking, with very quick sarcasm. I can see how southerners might take issue with their abruptness at times. There were also internationals at every turn. The diversity was exciting!

When you are in New England, you believe the slogan, America Runs on Dunkin’. Boston has more donut shops than any city in America. Everywhere we went in New England, there were much higher chances of seeing a Dunkin’ Donuts than a Starbucks. Everyone seemed to be carrying a Dunkin’ cup in their hand. Keep on makin’ your way south, my friend! There was also an abundance of Patriots and Red Sox paraphernalia!

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The next day, we stayed in New Hampshire, climbing Mount Kearsarge. The hike was rocky and steep, but the alpine region up top was beautiful, characterized by shorter trees and lots of lichen and moss. It was a fun day with our uncle, hearing about the history and characteristics of the area. I also learned that up north, cairns (those cool rock sculptures) actually have a functional purpose. For those dedicated enough to try hiking in the winter, the rock sculptures stand out over the snow on the bald knobs to mark the trail, while a blaze mark marked on the rock or one of the shorter trees of the alpine region would be covered up. Building your own cairn or removing from an existing cairn is serious because it could cause someone to lose their way.

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P.S. We all decided to watch National Treasure again after this trip.

Photos are my own.

Traveling Under the Weather: Rockport, MA

School is out and it is time to travel! The day after graduation (I was congratulated twice by strangers and had to explain that the teachers wear academic regalia for graduation too), I headed up to New England with my mom and sister. We chose to take the urban route to enjoy all the city skylines. It was kind of fun, since we don’t normally head north for vacation. The down side was about $45 worth of tolls. You’ve been warned!

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Our first stop was Rockport, Massachusetts. Wonder where the name comes from? The coast was mainly rocky, a great place to find sea glass and beautiful, rounded stones. Sand is overrated anyway. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by one-of-a-kind homes and B&Bs instead of sky-rise hotels. Many yards and gardens went straight to the edge of the rocky outcropping. We stayed at The Seafarer Inn and had a beautiful view of the cove from our window. The innkeepers also served wonderful breakfasts each day!

We explored the shops along Bearskin Neck and in Gloucester. Of course, we admired the famous Motif #1, known as the most often painted building in America. One of the days, we splurged at the Roy Moore Lobster Co. It was literally a shack on the pier with some picnic tables behind it. We enjoyed trying fresh caught lobster, oysters, stuffed clams, and good old-fashioned clam chowder.

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The downside of the trip was that one can never predict the weather. It was cold and rainy most of our stay. On the bright side, we didn’t have to pay for parking at the public beaches. There was no one else crazy enough to make it worthwhile for the city to charge. However, we were rather damp at the end of each day and had to dry out our shoes by the fireplace. We were very excited when we had sunny weather the day we checked out. Also unpredictable, I caught a cold our second day traveling. It was disappointing to have to stay inside during several outings and be so tired at the end of the day that I couldn’t even enjoy a book. It was a good reminder to rest, even while traveling when it seems so important not to miss out on anything.

I’ll share more about Boston and our time in New Hampshire in the next post.

Photos are my own.

Cultivating a Garden

God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.

— Francis Bacon

April showers bring May flowers. They also bring weeds. This month, I have been reminded of this as I enjoy the fresh beauty of the outdoors, both in my yard and in the gardens around my school. In March, I was giddy to see the trees were budding in purple Virginia fashion and daffodils were springing up. Later came black-eyed Susans, irises, peonies, and roses. I was frustrated to find that many dandelions (I cannot concede these be counted as a flowers), wild onions, crab grass, clover, some unidentified spiny thing, and a host of other undesirables also sprang up. The garden out my classroom window looked a little more like a wild jungle than a peaceful garden. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. One afternoon after school, I went out and pulled up as many weeds as I could. I had a huge pile of weeds when I was done, yet the garden still looked over run. I realized that part of its appearance was due to an overabundance of good things. Many of the flowers had not been thinned out recently, the ground cover had not been trimmed back, and the bushes and trees needed pruning. Meanwhile, at home I helped my mom pull out a patch of irises. We only did this because this was the second year in a row they had not bloomed. Why not? The previous owner of the garden had let them become too crowded and overgrown by weeds. The soil was also full of rocks that had worked their way up to the surface. A garden needs cultivation.

God makes all things perfect, but he has made things living, not static. Yes, there is much to enjoy in untouched nature, but in the beginning, God placed man in a garden and told him to tend it. I wonder what tending the Garden of Eden would have involved. Did Adam and Eve prune the fruit trees? Try to develop varieties of plants? Arrange the plants as they wished? Remember this was before the fall. They did not have to fear weeds or the toil that Adam was later cursed with, but they still had responsibility and work.

A garden is such a lovely metaphor. Even when we have planned something well (a schedule, a relationship, habit, etc.), we need to continually be working on it and cultivating it. Just because the garden is laid out well, does not mean that you can leave it alone forever. Because of the curse, you need to look out for the weeds that creep in and then multiply when they have an entrance. Even just preventing or removing the bad is often not enough. You also need to make sure the good, planned things in your life do not overrun the rest. A crowded garden is typically unhealthy.

Enjoy the spring in your garden! In your literal and figurative gardens, be willing to do the hard work of cultivating so that you can enjoy the flowers and the fruit in their appropriate seasons.

I Can’t Stay Away

Spring Break is a beautiful thing. It is so good to have a break from teaching to relax! I was able to return to Guadalajara for the week. Many people here and there have asked me how hard it was to adjust back to American culture or if I have experienced reverse culture shock. The transition has been easier for me than I had expected. I think this is for a few reasons. First, I was quite busy as soon as I arrived home in the U.S. and had a lot going to keep my mind engaged. I was very focused on the task of figuring out my role in my new school and organizing and setting up my classroom. Another thing that made the transition easy was that I kept a tie to Mexican culture by joining a Spanish speaking small group. This helped me make friends with people who know something of the experience of living in Mexico (or another Spanish speaking country). I can keep speaking Spanish, talk about Latino culture, make bilingual jokes, etc. I even have discovered a place to salsa dance in my home town. It is not quite the same as dancing in the streets of Guadalajara, but it was one of the activities I was sad to give up so I am thankful that I still get to do it sometimes. Salsa also provides another opportunity for speaking Spanish! Finally, I have been looking forward to this trip since the summer, knowing I would not be saying goodbye to friends forever.

I prayed for my trip that I would get quality time with as many people as possible. He was so faithful to answer! A fun surprise started out the trip as I had the same flight to Atlanta as a high school group from my school going to Belize. I enjoyed chatting with them in the airport and on the plane. Sunday, I spent the full day with my church on a retreat. It was so encouraging to see how the church has grown in depth and number and many of the individuals I have prayed for are thriving. Monday was dedicated to the school. I wandered around the campus catching up with American and Mexican teachers, staff, students, etc. I loved having lunch with my former students and then playing games with them at recess. I went back nearly every day for this sweet time with my not-so-little ones.

 

Throughout the week, I caught up individually with many people, often while eating (another thing I have been looking forward to on this trip). I have missed avocados, frijoles, lonches, Mexican popsicles, and, most of all, tacos! It was great to be able to enjoy authentic food and it was so refreshing to go deeper with friends and hear about their ministries, goals, struggles, and joys. I shared tears more than once and lots of laughs as well. God is taking such good care of them, even when I am away. I knew I could trust him with them when I last said, “Adios” (blog post: Good in Good-bye).

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My last day, some of the Lincoln teachers joined me in going to Tlaquepaque. We had fun looking around in artisan shops, taking pictures, and even caught a free show which included traditional Mayan dancing, dancers from Veracruz and Jalisco, and live Mariachi music.  I bought a piece of art made by the Huichol people. I recently have been doing some research about this people group. They are one of the least reached in Mexico and are located not far from Guadalajara. I bought the art to remind me to pray for them more often. As a closing gift, I coincidentally ran into the only friend I had not been able to contact during the week. I loved my break and I hope I can visit again soon.

 

Photos are my own.

The Empty Chair

More than half of the seats in the auditorium were occupied and a hundred or so procrastinators were still in the aisles. Individuals were looking for a group to be a part of, and groups were chatting casually and looking for a row of enough empty seats for their comfort. The younger ones in the crowd (self-consciously playing with their hair in the reflection of their smart phones), social butterflies (flopping into the fold down chairs with relish), and social flops (floating around with eager hopes) were all obliged to take a seat for the next 45 minutes. The choosing of seat somehow took a higher importance than was perhaps necessary.

An older woman stopped suddenly in front of me and I brushed into her. She offered a brief apology as she turned around and went back up the steps the way we had just come. Perhaps she had seen someone on another aisle and needed to reach them. I would have ducked into the row to let her past, but the unshaved flannel shirt sitting there had his big boots sticking out so that I could not, without getting mud on my jeans. It was my turn to utter an apology to the flannel shirt for backing into him, though I felt he didn’t really deserve it. I continued a few steps down, not recognizing anyone very significant to me. I saw some friends from freshman year, but they were already sitting in a full row. I waved my hand casually as I passed them and few raised their own hands in acknowledgement, contented in their cozy spot among friends.

I saw a guy who had hit on me awkwardly in Public Speaking sitting by himself on a perfectly good row with several empty seats for spreading out. It wasn’t worth it. I continued several more rows before I would consider settling in again. I found another row with several empty seats. I chose a seat three in from the aisle. That should be welcoming enough without seeming like I was waiting for someone specific. The chair squeaked loudly as I sat. Well, there was no moving now without attracting attention. Just then, a group of chatting Elementary Ed. majors came down my row from the other side. They started counting seats. The number ended at my chair. They clearly stated the number of seats they needed again to one another and then looked at me dumbly.

“I can move down if you need me to,” I said as I picked up my purse and the chair protested loudly.

“Oh, could you? Thanks.”

A girl with designer clothes and boots so pristine, I was sure it was the first time she had worn them, sat next to me and laid her coat on the back of the chair, spilling the sleeve over into my space, which I tried not to notice. Once settled in, she immediately turned to the guy on her right. Apparently, he was a very amusing because she punctuated his every sentence with a high-pitched laugh or a bubbly euphemism. While her back was turned, I gently flipped her coat back over the arm rest and settled in to watch the crowd. I was about three quarters of the way back, so I commanded a good view of the rest of the masses and there was a good chance someone would take the seat beside me before the speaker began. The time on the screen currently flashed 2:41 and counting down.

More people walked down the aisle, some in groups, some alone. Most of the people alone were looking up only briefly from their phones to check for available seats. I didn’t recognize any of them. Would someone I know sit next to me? What if it was someone I hadn’t seen in a while? 2:07.

Would it look bad if I moved to the aisle seat if no one came by the start or would that look like I had been stood up? I picked my purse again and idly looked through it until I found my Chapstick. I put some on and by the time I put it back in my purse decided I would stay in this spot either way, so I set my purse back down. The transient trickle had slowed down now as most people had a place. I turned my head to see who else was still coming down the stairs. A few people moving a little more quickly than the others had, trying to beat the dimming of the lights, but still no one I knew. 0:53.

I gave up hope of having anyone interesting to converse with and entertained myself watching a girlfriend trying to discreetly signal her boyfriend who had passed her and had resorted to standing in the very front and scanning the crowd with his mouth open. He finally caught the signal right before the lights dimmed and took the steps two at a time.

I looked at the empty seat beside me one more time, and suddenly there was a hand on it, pressing it down. I made eye contact with the lanky man sitting there and we shared a brief smile then turned our attention back to the front as the announcements started. When he crossed his legs, I noticed his shoes were nice leather. I always liked it when guys took care to wear nice shoes instead of sneakers. Funny though, most people naturally cross their right leg over their left leg and he did the reverse. Was he left-handed too?

The 45 minutes passed, the speaker talked, and I tried to think of anything original to say or ask the pleasant gentleman on my left to prolong our acquaintance. Nothing original came to me. The talk finished, the lights went up. I slowly picked up my purse as the girl beside me stood up and tucked her coat under her arm as she continued talking. The coat was inches from my face. I craned my head away and as I did, I noticed he was already gone.

 

Image from unsplash.com

James Monroe’s Highland

President’s Day means a day off from school! In typical teacher fashion, I decided to take an educational day trip. My mom and grandparents took the trip with me to Charlottesville, VA. We started out with a delicious colonial buffet at Michie’s Tavern. They have a very simple menu, but the food is excellent and the atmosphere of the building and even the clothing of the servers sets the stage well for the meal. I had already been to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (and loved it!) so we decided to visit James Monroe’s Highland. He purchased the property to be neighbors with Jefferson. Even though the original home burned down more than a century ago, we were able to tour the guest house furnished mostly using his original furniture.

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The original guest house

Of course, I learned some new things. Monroe is the president who has served in the most public offices. He was the only president other than George Washington to see active military duty during the Revolutionary War and he is pictured right behind Washington in the famous Crossing of the Delaware. He was also the only president other than Washington to run without opposition. He was the U.S. delegate to France at the time of the Louisiana Purchase and was very influential in this transaction.

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Statue originally commissioned by the country of Venezuela

Aside from the historical information I learned, I also enjoyed the grounds very much. The winding road in is flanked with tall ash trees on either side. It creates a lovely old plantation feel. The gardens included some trees that were in existence during Monroe’s residence there. Monroe had raised sheep for their wool and there is a small flock there currently. The sheep (including a lamb in the picture below) were panting in their thick wool coats on this unusually warm February day. On the other side of the property, there were cattle including a bull, several cows, and a few calves.

Later in the afternoon, we took some time to enjoy downtown Charlottesville. I found a charming used book shop called Blue Whale Books that also sold old prints, maps, and music in addition to a good variety of books. I was also thrilled to find Low – Vintage Clothing, Vinyl, and Antiques. I was impressed by the wide variety of vintage clothes (some truly antique as well as a huge selection from the 50 though 80s).

On our way out, I noticed the statue of Robert E. Lee. I have heard it is going to be taken down soon (article here). It makes me sad, though I can understand why Confederate symbols may cause deep hurt to some. Lee was a great man, a true Virginia gentleman. I like this picture with the setting sun behind him.

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Photos are my own.

Nothing New

Everyone wants to be original, creative, the first to do something. It is the mark of our culture. We are independent and unique. We value fresh, new, innovative art, music, and technology. Originality is held as a virtue. Does being original make one better than the rest?

I am also a product of my culture. I want to be seen as creative and unique, especially in my writing. I like when I can come up with a fresh idea or can think of a clever frame for a story. I feel like the written word is one of the few areas I am truly creative. In other areas, I am usually just following a model. I can cook well because I can follow a recipe well, I can sew or makes crafts well because I find good patterns. I can play beautiful music because I practiced technique and play exactly what is written by a composer.

In a book about the history of classical education, I read, “They tried not to say something new; they tried to say something worthy, and say it perfectly.” This quote reminded me that newness is not the end-all. It is completely acceptable to imitate what is good. Even the Italian renaissance, which I tend to think of as a time of fresh creativity, was actually an imitative era. It was a rebirth of the classical style of art, literature, architecture, etc. Renaissance thinkers and artists studied the written works of the Greek and Roman authors and admired their architecture and art. Success was measured by how a work held to the classical standard. The renaissance led the way into the modern era by looking back to a previous era.

Many people can be “original” without saying or showing anything worthwhile or beautiful. I want what I say (or make or do) to be first worthwhile and true. Secondly, I want to say it well, beautifully, and with clarity. If what I say is also something new, well and good, if it is even possible to say something truly original. In the end, what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Quote from Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons.

Photo is my own.