Vermont: Freedom and Unity

As we packed the car and prepared to leave our lake cottage at the end of the unpaved road, I was already missing New Hampshire: the white spired churches, our rope swing, “lobstah rolls” and the lazy roads. We were destined for Vermont.

We bade farewell to New Hampshire in Hanover,  
site of Dartmouth College and equally impressive Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery, the longest-operated restaurant in Hanover. Opened in 1947, with a menu that featured “hamburger….35 cents,” Lou’s now welcomes guests with a dessert case that makes you realize you have some serious decisions to make if you’re not staying four years.

. . .

The physical journey from New Hampshire to Vermont is brief; you need only cross the Connecticut River. But the spiritual distance between New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” and Vermont’s “Freedom and Unity” mottos suggested we would be traveling a great distance.

As we made our way north and east on Highway 89, we had three major destinations on our Vermont itinerary: the Green Mountains of Stowe, the Lake Champlain area of Burlington, and the ice cream of Waterbury. Yes, after weeks of travel, we would finally arrive at Mecca: the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour.

While the kids lobbied to stop first at Ben & Jerry’s, we had the advantage of being in charge of the steering wheel. As we approached the highway exit to Vermont’s capitol city, Montpelier, we knew we had to make a detour.

The boys rolled their eyes as Christopher intoned, “Guys, did you know this is the least populous capitol in the nation?” (I didn’t doubt it. I had the feeling I could walk into the Governor’s office next door to the Capitol building and ask if he wanted anything from Dunkin’ Donuts.) It also has to be one of the prettiest, its golden dome gleaming against the deep green of the tree-engulfed mountains behind it.

We got out of the car in front of the capitol and took the requisite picture. The novelty of capitol buildings was wearing thin. After the photo shoot, they asked “Now can we go to Ben & Jerry’s?”

“Almost…” we answered in that noncommittal way that means, “We’re not quite done causing you misery.” (No freedom or unity for our family unit, at least for the moment.)

We forced the poor things to enter a museum

Adjacent to the capitol, the Vermont Historical Society has a hands-on, kid-friendly exhibit about the state we had just entered. Kid-friendly is so my speed. We walked through a full-sized Abenaki wigwam, a re-creation of the Catamount Tavern where Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys gathered, a railroad station complete with a working telegraph and a WWII living room furnished with period music and magazines. From abolishing slavery in its first constitution in 1787, through the gay marriage debate, the Vermont Historical Society gave us the skinny on Vermont. Definite thumbs up.


At last we hightailed it to Waterbury and joined the throngs at the Ben & Jerry’s factory. Christopher, ripe with Vermont factoids, piped up: “Did you know this is the most visited tourist attraction in Vermont?” From the moment we entered the parking lot, it was easy to believe. And why shouldn’t it be? With reasonable tour prices (adults $3, kids free), a heaping taste of a new flavor (“Late Night Snack” for us, featuring chocolate covered potato chips mixed into vanilla!), and good karmic corporate practices, I was happy to add my name to the list of people who’ve stopped by and taken the requisite photo.

As the day faded, we left the land of sweet cream and turned up the mountain road to complete the short distance to Stowe, and our accommodations at the Grey Fox Inn. Ah, Stowe. As soon as we entered the town, I stopped missing New Hampshire.

I realized I’d be missing this place all too soon.

Next up: Stowe, Vermont!

Why New Hampshire Rocks: Off-the-grid Games, Baseball, and Presidential Politics

Time marches fast, even on vacation. It’s hard to believe our plans are steadily becoming history, as the days become weeks. After 28 days we have reached the halfway mark of our trip, and signs of homesickness (or maybe travel weariness) have arrived. The fighting in the car is increasing, as are statements longing for home.

But one of the beauties of being in a new environment without one’s favorite toys, is the added motivation for creativity. At the house on Merrymeeting Lake last week, for example, Emmett and Aaron discovered a small rubber fish that must have been used as bait by a recent fisherman. This squishy little thing provided hours of entertainment, as they took turns throwing the fish into the lake, then jumping off the end of the dock to race each other to get it.

Now our adventure marches on to the second New Hampshire lake houses, in tiny Newbury, est. 1778, far from the more tourist-oriented locales. The town is charming, the house itself is more remote, rustic…and without cable TV, cell phone or internet service. It’s going to be wonderful.

Last night, instead of the kids watching television while Christopher and I worked on our computers, we played an Aaron-invented game, challenging each other to name the capitol of each state. Aaron drew freehand a map of the United States, and checked of the capitols as we named them. (Are you smarter than an almost-5th grader? I’m not.)

This morning, instead of Emmett being glued to The Disney Channel, he and Christopher rowed “our” little boat out to an island in the middle of the lake, on which someone has strung a rope swing on a high tree. Christopher expertly guided Emmett through his fears, and Emmett is now a rope-swing-into-a-lake kind of kid. Aaron and I stayed back in the house, gobbling down more chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which he’d begun our last day in Manhattan, on the F Train to Brooklyn.

By late morning, we set out for Manchester with two big plans.

The first was to attend a Minor League baseball game (New Hampshire Fisher Cats vs. the Akron Aeros in Northeast Delta Dental Stadium).

The second (unstated-so-as-to-avoid-protest): to meet Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman at a restaurant down the street from the stadium. (A quick peek at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s website had let us know he would be at Murphy’s Taproom on Elm Street an hour before game time, talking with New  Hampshire folks. Just like they show on TV!)

We merely told the kids we knew a great place for lunch. We mentioned that Presidential candidates often ate lunch there. That piqued their interest. “Like Barack Obama?” Aaron wondered. “Could be,” we may have responded.

We walked toward the restaurant and, still not quite believing things work this way, there he was sitting at a table with 10 people, in a casual green shirt, talking about the economy.  The nice Young Republicans set out four more chairs for us. We listened until the kids were bored and threatening to become disruptive, and I took them outside.

Governor Huntsman was affable, and spoke with us after the round table ended. He asked Emmett about his missing front tooth; asked Aaron about his interests (response: basketball). We shook hands and told him we were fellow Penn grads, and that we were from California. He told us he grew up in North Hollywood. Politics aside, I liked the man, so I mentioned that I had a good track record: the last time I’d taken my picture with a Governor was 1990, with then-Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton. He responded in a hushed voice: “I’m actually friends with him.”

Will we have shaken the hand of the next President? If our unscientific polling has anything to say, probably not: our closest Republican family told us he’s not their number one (but to send their love anyway).