Concord Point Lighthouse and Elk Neck Park

We had started our second day in Baltimore so early that we found we were leaving the city before noon.  We, therefore, decided to do something spontaneous as we drove through Northern Maryland and head to the Chesapeake.

We first stopped in Havre de Grace.  I have driven past the small city several times before but have never actually been in.  It looked quaint and picturesque, the type of place that would be pleasant for a stroll.  We went straight to the Concord Point Lighthouse, which is sited where the Chesapeake meets the Susquehanna.  During the War of 1812, the British attacked the city and, during that attack, Lieutenant John O’Neill manned the cannon single-handed in order to defend the town.  Injured and captured, the story goes that his 16 year old daughter rowed out to the British vessel and plead for her father’s release.  She was succesful and her father was released and the British Admiral awarded her bravery with an expensive snuffbox.  When the lighthouse was built in the late 1820s, O’Neill and his family were made its hereditary keepers as an expression of gratitude.  The granite lighthouse is 26 feet high with the lantern bringing it to 36 feet.  Although we could not go inside, apparently it is a rope ladder that allows people to ascend through a trapdoor to the lantern.  The keepers did not have to be accommodated within the lighthouse itself as there was a separate dwelling nearby.

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After our visit to the lighthouse, the boys were keen for a dip in the water.  We, therefore, headed to a town named North East – which also looked very pleasant – and Elk Neck State Park.  The kids immediately donned their swimming gear and rushed down to the shore.  The beach was rough, scrubby, and pebbly but the kids said that it turned to finer sand once they were further out in the water.  The incline into the water was gentle and the kids could get really quite far out while standing.  Beaches are not my thing but the kids had a blast swimming, splashing, and floating around.  It was a good way to burn off their energy before the rest of the journey home.

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Road Trip 2017 #28 – The Birds and Bodega Bay

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I am a movie nerd.  I have successfully managed to inspire my sons into being movie nerds too, especially the middle two kids.  I have not indoctrinated them, of course, but my enthusiasm for film has transferred to them and now we can all enjoy watching movies together, analysing them, comparing them, and obviously being entertained by them.  As a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, I have given my kids a gentle introduction to his movies.  We started with ‘The Trouble with Harry’, then moved on to ‘Rear Window’, and then ‘The Birds’.  When I told them that we would be staying in the area where ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ (which they have not seen) and ‘The Birds’ were filmed, they were eager to go and visit the locations.  I was happy to oblige.  Mr Pict had accompanied me on the same mission 17 years before so was also happy to indulge us this time.

We decided to focus on Bodega and Bodega Bay since the kids had actually seen ‘The Birds’ and would recognise the locations.   When we reached Bodega, we drove up to the church and parked up.  The kids and I got out and wandered the few yards to the Potter House.  This is a private residence so, rest assured, we were careful not to be intrusive or to cause a commotion.  The house was built in 1873 and originally served as a schoolhouse and it served as the school building in the Hitchcock movie, the set of an important scene in the film and, therefore, featuring prominently.  Of course, we could not resist acting out the film but we wanted to be respectful of the local residents so we acted it out as if it had been a silent movie.  My kids are such ham actors.  St Theresa’s church can be glimpsed during that scene so we took some photos and reenacted some silent action scenes there too.

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The movie creates the impression that the schoolhouse and church are right on the coast but, in fact, Bodega is a short drive inland from the bay.  We, therefore, jumped back in the car and headed to Bodega Bay.  The main focus of our visit to the town was the Tides Restaurant.  It plays a prominent role in the movie and is still identifiable as the key location, despite being remodelled a fair bit since the 1960s.  When I was last there, it felt very much like Bodega Bay barely tolerated the Hitchcock connection.  Apart from one leaflet, there was nothing that declared the place to have been related to the movie.  This time, however, it appeared that the town had embraced the movie as a tourist opportunity.  Inside the Tides there were ample references to the film, from stuffed ravens to a mock up of a building with smashed windows.  More opportunities for ham acting, in other words.  The kids bought some ice lollies and we stepped out onto the back deck to look at the bay.  We could see the spit of land opposite where the Brenner house stood (it was torn down immediately after filming), the road where Tippi Hedren drove out to that house, and the jetty where she rented a boat to cross the bay.

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Once everyone had finished their iced treats, we jumped back in the car and headed along the coastal road to Salmon Creek Beach.  It was early evening by this juncture and the air was distinctly chilly.  There was no way the kids were even going to go for a paddle, let alone a swim.  However, we found a new way to keep them entertained.  The beach was covered with little huts that had been built out of driftwood.  They were really great, really competently built structures.  I don’t know who had erected them and for what purpose but I do know they would fare a lot better than I would if marooned on a desert island.  That inspired my kids to gather up driftwood and build their own structure.  We ran out of time before they got anywhere near completed but it kept them entertained for over an hour.  They also found a washed up, decaying cow carcass.  I am sure most people’s kids would recoil at such a discovery but my kids reacted like they had found buried treasure and studied the corpse, fascinated.  It’s possible I have exposed them to too much Hitchcock after all.

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Road Trip 2017 #6 – Point Dume and the Great Kite Caper

The third day of our vacation fell on a Saturday.  LA had been crowded and full of too much hustle and bustle even on weekdays so we decided to get away from the city and go for a nature ramble instead.  J and L suggested that we meet up with some friends of theirs and go for a hike which seemed like just the ticket.  Their friends in turn suggested a coastal hike so that we would benefit from the cooling sea breezes on such a hot day.  We, therefore, headed to Point Dume.  Yes, I too am disappointed it is not spelled Doom.

Point Dume is essentially a cliff in Malibu.  My middle two sons – the comic book geeks – were excited to learn that the promontory was the site of Tony Stark’s CGI mansion in the ‘Iron Man’ movies.  More excitingly for me, the adjacent beach was the location of the climactic scene in ‘The Planet of the Apes’.  Our hike took us along a pathway with a gentle ascent up to the promontory.  It offered us incredible views of the surrounding landscape, from the mansions behind us, to the beaches beyond, and the ocean stretching to the horizon.

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My boys and their wee cousin decided to give me palpitations by scampering down a sandy slope from a viewing platform to a cliff edge below.  Mr Pict and L followed them down to keep a closer eye on them but still my fear of heights was escalating to panic attack proportions watching them inch closer and closer to the edge.  I had visions of the whole cliff face sheering off.  I actually felt giddy and queasy and was glad when everyone decided to clamber back up to more solid, stable ground.  Meanwhile, to try and distract me from the potential for Doom at Dume, the friends pointed out various landmarks in the distance and told me about the grey whales they often see passing in the winter months.   I have never seen grey whales before so that would have been a superb experience.  We did, however, see a pod of dolphins arching in and out of the water and there were sea-lions with their pups galore piled up on the rocks just below us – though looking straight down at them was also triggering my fear of heights.

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Thankfully and finally everyone was ready to move on from the cliff top and we began to snake our way back down on sandy, pebble strewn pathways past cacti in bloom and darting lizards.  We headed in the direction of Zuma Beach.  L and I peeled off to take the gaggle of kids to the beach while the other adults headed off in search of lunch – since we had all entirely failed to pack one.  The kids did not complain as they ended up munching pizza and giant sandwiches on the beach.  You may recall from many a post, however, that I loathe sand.  Between heights and sand, I was having a nerve-shredding day.  Since I was hungry, I tried my best to eat a sandwich despite my 20+ year policy of never eating at the beach.  I regretted even trying.  Not only was I wincing with every bite, expecting my teeth to touch grains of sand, but a ruddy great seagull came swooping down on my head, battered into my skull, and stole my entire sandwich.  I am, therefore, returning wholeheartedly to my commitment to never eat on a beach.

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Despite the sand and seagull thing, we had a wonderful time at the beach.  Zuma Beach is clean and relatively quiet and the boys could go out quite far into the sea while still being at paddling height.  They were loving frolicking in the waves as it was but it made them enjoy the experience even more when a slick and stealthy sea-lion bobbed up between them as it skirted the shoreline.  There were also several pods of dolphins who swam past.  Sadly none were doing aquatic acrobatics but it was magical to see them so close.  We also saw pelicans in flight and built sand sculptures of sea creatures and the kids went scouting for seaweed to outline them.  Little cousin W also enjoyed burying my oldest son in the sand which was all fun and games until a lifeguard didn’t notice him in the sand and stood on him.  Crushed by a lifeguard at the beach.  I don’t think that ever happened on ‘Baywatch’.

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Late in the afternoon as the wind picked up, J decided to get a kite out for the kids to play with.  All was going swimmingly until the kite collided with the telephone wire going into the lifeguard tower and got completely snagged.  Oh dear.  Obviously we had to attempt to retrieve it but it was significantly taller than even the tallest member of our group.  The only option, therefore, was to MacGyver some sort of tool that could be used to unhook the kite from the wire.  Engineering skills were sorely lacking but a tool was nevertheless created.  Mr Pict then plonked our 10 year old onto his shoulders and our son then used the tool to try and catch the kite string and move it off the wire.  They tried different combinations of children on adult shoulders.  At one point, they even had the 5 year old on top of the 10 year old on top of Mr Pict and still the kite remained resolutely stuck to the wire.  Admitting that the tool was probably not going to work, it was abandoned and more simple methods were resorted to – lobbing shoes at the kite in the hopes of knocking it off the wire.  This whole escapade went on for quite some time.  An embarrassingly long time actually.  People strolling on the beach stopped to spectate.  People turned their deck chairs to face the action instead of the sea.  We were their entertainment.  The pressure was on to actually succeed with that many witnesses to the caper.  It got to the stage where other people were volunteering their shoes, thinking their footwear was more aerodynamic or would pack more of a wallop when it collided with the kite.  There was a near constant barrage of shoes soaring across or just below the kite but the odd one that made contact did little to budge it.  Finally, some off-duty military men offered to help.  Maybe it was their army training that did the job, maybe their shoes were the perfect torpedoes for kites, maybe the kite had been budged little by little so that it was finally ripe for the plucking, or perhaps it was just lucky timing, but within minutes of joining in the fray, these chaps had successfully walloped the kite in such a way that it bounced off the wire and was then rapidly caught by our 11 year old before the wind caught it and took it.  Everyone on the beach burst into spontaneous applause, whistles and cheers.  We didn’t provide an encore.

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Road Trip 2017 #2 – Venice Beach

Having arrived at Santa Ana airport and picked up our rental car, we headed directly to Venice, Los Angeles.  Mr Pict’s two cousins work in the movie industry and both live in LA.  Unfortunately, one was out of state during our visit but happily the other was still at home base.  Indeed, cousin J and his family were kind and generous enough to let us stay with them at their property in Venice.  J, L, and their son W have a beautiful home – as warm, eclectic, creative, and inspirational as they are – and we were delighted to take them up on their offer while also having the benefit of them as tour guides and wonderful company.

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After so many hours spent in cars, planes, and in airports, we all desperately needed to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.  The kids were also very eager to experience the beach.  The house was only a few blocks from Venice’s famous boardwalk and beach so all nine of us got togged up and set out for a stroll.  First stop was a bite to eat at a taco place.  The setting was a bit rough and ready but the food was completely delicious and we all felt in a better mood post-munch.

Venice was founded by a chap named Abbot Kinney at the beginning of the Twentieth Century and quickly established itself as a tourist destination, offering a wide variety of entertainments.  By the middle of the century, some dereliction had set in and the area was known for its slums but also for being a centre of creativity and particularly of counterculture.  Venice today reflects all of that history.  It was impossible to overlook the homelessness and crime in the area but it was also clear Venice remains a vibrant community full of buzzing activity, creativity, and diversity.  I loved seeing all of the interesting architecture fronting the boardwalk.  Many of the buildings were brightly coloured and painted with fabulous murals.  There were also street artists and performers to catch our eye and entertain us as we wandered along the boardwalk.  We stopped for a while to spectate skateboarding and were particularly impressed by some of the young kids.  I never had any skill whatsoever with skateboards so to see such small kids doing incredible things was pretty absorbing.

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The kids were eager to get into the water so we headed into the sand and towards the shore.  Our youngest son has never been in the Pacific so he ticked off an item on his travel bucket list when he bounded off into the waves.  The number of surfers in the water testified to the power of the water.  The current was pretty strong and the waves were formidable so we insisted that our children did not swim out too far from the shore.  They did not mind because they had a complete blast crashing around in the waves and burying each other in the sand.  It was the perfect, most refreshing way to start our vacation.

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Wild in Cape May

In the Summer months, it seems like the entire of Philly and its suburbs decamps to the Jersey Shore.  I actually know plenty of people who also head to the coast at regular periods throughout the year.  It appears that the Jersey Shore is the destination of choice for most of our neighbours.  We, however, have only been a couple of times.  This is partly because I don’t like sand and partly because we are contrary besoms.  However, it is mostly because none of us find we can relax in crowded settings.  This is even more so in beach settings because of the experience of losing our youngest child on a crowded beach several years ago.  All of which preamble is to explain why it is, over three years since moving to America, we have only been to the Jersey Shore a couple of times.  Since we had an unseasonably nice day for February last weekend, we decided we should expand our explorations of New Jersey’s coastline and head to Cape May.

Suspecting the beach would still be chilly, we made the focus of our trip the Cape May County Zoo.  The zoo is free which appeals to my thrifty nature but had me concerned about the welfare standards.  Thankfully I was wrong to be cynical as the enclosures actually seemed well designed and considered.

We headed first to the reptile and amphibian house.  The kids and I always spend a lot of time in these areas at zoos so we wanted to prioritise having enough time there.  We were pleased that so many of the snakes, lizards, and frogs were on display in their tanks as quite often they are tucked away in little hollows and can barely be seen.  There were snakes large and small from places near and far; a variety of turtles, including one who was very crinkly and spiky looking; a large alligator; brightly coloured frogs and a chubby frog squashed in the corner of its tank; axolotls and newts; and an iguana riding on a tortoise’s back.

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With the exception of the tiger, which refused to put in an appearance, the mammals too were all out and about and easy for us to see.  My 9 year old was eager to see marsupials for some reason so was delighted to see wallabies lazing around in the sun, looking like they were watching Netflix on the sofa.  We also got to see a brace of black bears.  Aside from the baby black bear that ran across the road in front of us in West Virginia last summer, it was the closest any of us had been to a black bear since one of them was walking right along the fence line.  Its companion, meanwhile, was lying on its back with one leg up in the air against a fence.  In addition to seeing the lions, we heard the male roar.  It was an incredible sound, only the second time my kids have heard a real life lion roar, though the sight of the lions lolling around like large moggies was a bit less awe-inspiring.  There were also leopards – traditional and snow varieties – and a red panda, zebra, giraffes, ostriches, lemurs, and bison.

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We didn’t see all of the animals that inhabit the zoo (there are apparently over 250 species) but because admission was free we didn’t feel like we had to push things and see every last creature.  I would have kept going but the kids were rapidly escalating their hunger levels from peckish to rampagingly hangry so we decided to leave while the going was good and go in search of food.

After a very tasty sojourn in a Mediterranean diner, we headed for the actual shore.  It would have been cruel and unusual of us parents to take the kids to the Jersey Shore for the day and not actually let them anywhere near the beach.  The coast was decidedly chiller than even a short jaunt inland and the sky was darkening quickly but the kids were still determined to have fun.  We forget sometimes that these kids were used to playing on beaches year round on the west coast of Scotland and are pretty hardy and determined as a result.  They all kicked off their shoes within minutes and, while two of them did a sort of Chariots of Fire run along the sand, two of them lifted up their trouser legs to have a bit of a paddle in the Atlantic.  A bit of a paddle, however, turned into a wade and – before we could even issue a warning they would no doubt have ignored anyway – two of them ended up soaked.  Their answer was to just peel off their sodden trousers and continue playing in the surf.  Our youngest child was, therefore, frolicking in the sea with bare legs and a winter coat.  He looked hysterically ridiculous but he was having an absolute whale of a time.  Sometimes the boys just really need to be feral in the great outdoors.

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I couldn’t come to the coast and not see a lighthouse so our final destination for the day, as day slipped into night, was the Cape May Lighthouse.   The current lighthouse was built in 1859 and is the third incarnation of a lighthouse at that spot.  I guess third time was the charm.  I arrived too late to enter the lighthouse so I just had to content myself with looking at it.  Maybe some day I will return and force myself up the claustrophobic spiral staircase in order to see the view.

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Road Trip #9 – Sand Dunes

During our sojourn in Grand Haven, we took a trip further up the coastline of Lake Michigan in order to visit Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area.  This is a beautiful area of woodland that merges on the shore with spectacular sand dunes.

After a quick comfort stop at the worst composting toilet ever, we set off for a trek on the Nurnberg Trail.  This path led us through thick woodland which provided some welcome shade from the pulsing sun.  We had read that there were hog nosed snakes to be encountered on the trail but alas all we saw were squirrels and chipmunks who we encounter daily at home.

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Gradually the path between our feet turned from mulch and grit to sand until we found we were walking on roasting hot sand and emerged from the green shade of the trees onto the large, golden sand dunes.  The children scampered off excitedly and were soon scaling the wind sculpted peaks of the dunes.

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The spot was wonderfully secluded and peaceful.  It was like having our own private stretch of shore.  The sand was reflecting and radiating an immense amount of heat so the boys were soon swimming in the lake which was a wonderfully crisp blue.  We were experiencing the colours of the Caribbean in Michigan.  As I dipped my legs into the water for a paddle, I am sure I heard them hiss and sizzle.  It really was incredibly hot out that day.  Nevertheless, we could have idled on that beach for several hours just enjoying the quiet and solitude.

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After all that heat, a return to the shaded woods was most welcome and enjoyable.  However, after all of that relaxation, the trek back through the woods felt like it took an age, far longer than it had taken to walk to the shore.  That’s the theory of relativity in a nutshell then.  I found myself realising that for the first time in at least a very long time and perhaps in my life I had actually taken pleasure in sitting on a sandy beach.  ‘Twas a miracle.

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Road Trip #8 – Grand Haven

Road tripping with kids is a pretty hectic and pell-mell affair.  Whereas when we were a childless couple we could just play things by ear, take diversions, rock up to somewhere without having accommodation totally fixed, the same is not true when travelling with four small dudes and needing a place that can take six weary bodies.  We, therefore, deliberately, consciously built in a relaxing break into our rip-roaring tour of several states by renting a vacation property in Grand Haven, Michigan.  We would spend three nights there in order to slow our pace down, deep breathe, do some chilling – and get some laundry done at a local laundrette.

Grand Haven is a smallish town nestled on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  Baby Face Nelson committed one of his first bank robberies there but I think such peaks of excitement and drama must be rare there.  It is a pretty chilled, sleepy place and must be even more so when it is not tourist or summer season and things get a bit dormant.  It was just the antidote we needed after a series of busy days.

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Grand Haven has a state park right on the beach so we purchased a pass and the kids enjoyed splashing about in Lake Michigan for a couple of days.  As with Lake Erie, the water was shallow and, therefore, pretty warm.  I sat on the beach and spectated their antics while reading a book which was my little relaxing luxury.

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We also saw the town’s musical fountain show.  This happens every evening at sundown and is a free event for the community and visitors.  We strolled down to the riverfront as the sun was setting and grabbed a spot on the bleachers and people-watched while waiting for the show to begin.  It has been going for about 50 years and is a synchronised display of water and music.  The kids recognised some of the songs and were singing along.  I am increasingly out of touch with contemporary music but could hum along with the more vintage tunes.  It was well done and cute and did not outstay its welcome.

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On another day as we strolled through the town, we popped into Kilwin’s confectionery shop were we watched fudge being made.  I adore fudge but I was a good girl and resisted temptation.  Mr Pict and the boys all ordered ice cream (I am lactose intolerant which makes that easy to resist) and declared the ice cream to be delicious.  There was certainly a lot of it crammed into each cone.

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Grand Haven has a pier and lighthouse so we took a stroll to have a look see on a day when it had been thundering all morning.  I have mentioned my mild lighthouse obsession so I enjoyed walking out onto the pier and getting up close to the red lighthouse.  The lake was still very choppy from the storm and waves were crashing up onto the stonework walkway.  Mr Pict and the boys found it relaxing to watch the waves breaking on the pier and ever so often they would get walloped by a wall of water.

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Normally when travelling I like my days to be stuffed full of activity.  I do not want to waste opportunities or squander time.  I want all the experiences I can when I am somewhere new.  I will admit, however, that it was actually rather pleasant to be forced into a more stately pace by the more languid pace of life in Grand Haven.  Recharging our batteries for the next leg of the trip proved to be pretty useful too.