Mother’s Day in Batsto

 

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Trigger Warning: This post contains a single photo of a spider.

It was Mother’s Day last Sunday and, as my Mother’s Day treat, I wanted to go and explore somewhere new.  This Spring has been totally drecih –  a good Scots word for dreary.  It has been chilly, grey, and wet, and not very conducive to getting out and about.  Between the weather and a too busy schedule, I felt like I was getting cabin fever from not getting out and about and exploring.  So Mother’s Day was the perfect day for going for a wander somewhere new.  We chose to go to Batsto, an abandoned town in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.  I learned about the existence of Batsto from Richard Lewis’ wonderful photography blog.  Rich was actually kind enough to let me pick his brains about things to do and places to explore in the Pine Barrens.  My boys are good walkers with great stamina but we have learned from experience that they enjoy themselves a lot more and whine a lot less if we provide some sort of focus to our hikes, rambles, and wanderings.  I felt that exploring Batsto Village as a prelude to hiking a trail would be a great day out.

Our first port of call was the Visitor’s Center.  This was primarily so we could use the restroom after our drive from the Philly ‘burbs but it also provided a useful introduction to the history of the town.  Interpretative boards and exhibits informed us that Batsto was founded in the mid-18th Century – though the Lenni Lenape lived in the area before.  It was a chap named Charles Read who set up the first ironworks there, using the bog ore found in the area and trees from the woodland for the smelting furnaces.  That Batsto Iron Works changed hands a few times and had a boom period during the Revolutionary War as it provided a range of products, including munitions, to the Continental Army.  Then, in the mid-19th Century, as the iron works declined, Batsto became a glassworking area, particularly renowned for its production of window glass.  The village came under state ownership in the 1950s and the last resident left in the 1980s.

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A little bit of history absorbed, we ventured outdoors to begin our explorations.  We saw a pile of bog ore and the remains of a wooden ore boat, used to transport the raw ore from the lake.  We also saw the ice house where food provisions could be stored.  Huge chunks of ice would be cut from the lake and packed with saw dust inside the ice house so that the food could be stored there without it spoiling.  I am old enough to remember some people still having cold cupboards in their houses rather than refrigerators but it was a good opportunity to explain to my kids how things were done before electricity and the advent of domestic appliances.  Another outbuilding contained carriages, some of which looked like carcasses picked clean by carrion.  Other barns would have housed different farm animals.  In the wheelwright and blacksmith workshops, the many and various tools of the trade were on display.  I could almost imagine the blacksmith and wheelwright wandering in, picking up the equipment, and setting to work.

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The younger boys enjoyed playing inside the mule barn.  Unfortunately, rather than taking inspiration from the actual setting and playing a game of old-timey farmers, they decided to turn it into a horror game in which they had to stay steps ahead of some malevolent ghosts who were tracking them down.  There were some genuine shrieks when they found themselves squeezed into thickly webbed corners with spiders.  Thankfully no other visitors were within earshot at the time.  While they spooked each other, I took my time studying the Corn Crib.  I had never seen such an agricultural structure before and its strange shape really appealed to me.  It was as if a wonky pentagon shaped barn had had a tunnel bored through its centre.  This was where corn was stored and shucked.  The machinery that did so was powered by a water turbine attached to the adjacent Gristmill.  This was another building the boys enjoyed exploring because there were multiple accessible levels within it.  The basement layer was also thick with dusty grit which enabled them to scrawl spooky messages to each other – and any visitors who followed after us.

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In the middle of all of these agricultural and industrial buildings were a mansion and a general store.  I absolutely loved the architectural design of the mansion because it was so utterly crazy.  There were a variety of shapes and angles on every facet of the house.  There were also windows of every shape and style.  Maybe I liked it because it was quirky.  Maybe it was because it was the type of house I might end up drawing with no symmetry or organised pattern to the design.  I would love to take a tour of its interior some time.  We could go inside the general store which was fun.  The interior contained a display much like customers would have encountered upon entering the store.  I am a sucker for things being stored in little drawers and little pigeonholes.  I have fond memories of selecting penny sweeties (candy) from wooden drawers when I was wee which might be part of it.  I, therefore, particularly liked seeing the drawers of spices.  Mr Pict liked the veranda outside the general store.  It put him in mind of westerns.  I think he could imagine sitting in a rocking chair watching the world go by from that veranda.

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We took the path past the lake and a weir roaring with water.  This brought us to the area where the iron furnaces once stood and the site where the glassworks would have been.  Little or no trace remains of either.  The sawmill was still standing, however, and we could see how the trees from the surrounding woodland would have been turned into lumber products, including shingles for the exterior of houses.

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Just a little way off from the sawmill were all the remaining village houses.  These were houses, built in the early 19th Century, that occupied by the village workers.  A few of them were open so that we could go in and see the rooms and some mock ups of how they would have been furnished.  I always like to imagine how people would have lived in the past, being much more interested in social history than industrial history.

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Our intention had been to take one of the nature trails that leads off from Batsto.  However, the children were getting hungry which makes them grizzlier than bears.  We knew that setting out on a trek was inviting disaster that would start with grumbles and escalate to snarls.  We, therefore, determined that we would walk through the woods to the church that once served the people of Batsto and is still in service today for the local community.  Half way down the trail, however, we discovered that the path ahead was flooded with no obvious way around.  It had rained hard all day the previous day so this was not all together surprising but it was disappointing.  Mr Pict and I decided not to push our luck with the kids and their stomachs so, with a sigh, we turned around and headed back through the woods, through the village, and back to the car.

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Rich had recommended a few places to eat in the area so we headed to one of these.  I love to eat out for Mother’s Day as it means I don’t have to cook or clean.  I love it even more if the food is especially delicious.  The Vincetown Diner did not disappoint.  It had the relaxing, laid back atmosphere and spaciousness of a diner but the food was a step up from regular diner food (though I am actually a fan of diner food).  I had crab cakes with garlic mash and lemon aoli which was packed with flavour and stuffed me to the gunnels.  My eyes were bigger than my belly and had scanned the dessert case on the way to our seats so I still went ahead and ordered the chocolate volcano cake.  I was only able to eat one mouthful of it so I boxed it up and had it the next day.  Still scrumptious.

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We had a superb day out exploring the Pine Barrens.  We will likely return to Batsto again, maybe in a different season, and we would also like to explore more of the surrounding area and trek along some of the trails.  I also hope the dreary weather has ended now so that this can be the first of many weekend wanderings.  We have been cooped up for too long.

Mother’s Day Art Journal Page

This week’s challenge for the Documented Life Project was to “use a rubber stamp in a new way”.  My collection of rubber stamps is small and my experience with them limited.  Before I embarked on this whole art journaling thing a few months ago, my use of stamps was confined to two uses: firstly, stamping a “this book belongs to” box in each of the books I owned at University and during my teaching career in an often thwarted attempt at preventing borrowing turning into purloining; secondly, using a set of tiny Winnie the Pooh stamps to embellish my feedback on my students’ work, a practice that was rapidly replaced with me drawing animals on their work as a reward for a great piece of work or improvement.  Limited experience might have inhibited my creative thinking with regard to the challenge – and certainly my stock of stamps is minuscule – but it also gave me free reign since almost all use of stamps was new to me.

Having previously used stamps in the background of my art journal page commemorating my trip to the Poconos with Mr Pict (and fulfilling the DLP challenge about depicting a favourite pair of shoes), I decided that my new way to use the stamps would be to make them an inherent part of the image.  My personal challenge for this page was to be much looser in my application of colour and my use of line so as to move away from my usual more graphic and linear style of drawing.  I, therefore, moved the colour around the page using a baby wipe (once you are a mother you just never stop buying baby wipes as they are a useful tool in so many situations) and was much “scribblier” in my use of drawing tools.

Since this week included my first ever Mother’s Day in America – and my first ever Mother’s Day in May – I decided to commemorate that with a bouquet of flowers, a traditional gift though not one I often receive because a) I have hayfever and b) my kids love to give and I love to receive completely random things.  I collaged the plant pot using scraps of paper my 8 year old had saved for me, which seemed apt, and the stamps were used as the centres of each flower.  I then created a frame using some decorative tape.

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Mother’s Day in New Hope

Sunday was my first ever Mother’s Day in America.  Mothering Sunday in the UK falls in March so the weather is often too cold and miserable to plan any sort of excursion.  We knew, however, that Sunday was predicted to be a corker of a day so Mr Pict asked me where I would like to go as a day trip.  Normally I would always plan a trip around the kids’ interests and needs and, indeed, my first thought was to take them into Philadelphia to explore a museum or gallery.  But then I decided to be selfish and decreed that we would take a trip to the picturesque town of New Hope.

New Hope sits on the Delaware River where it meets the Aquetong Creek, right on the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and just north of where George Washington famously crossed.  Before moving to Pennsylvania, I must admit the only thing I knew about New Hope was that it was where Abbie Hoffman had commmitted suicide.  Now I also know that Broadway shows are often first show in New Hope as a way of giving them a dry run and tweaking them and that the town’s main industry is tourism.  This latter fact was evident upon our arrival.  The place was packed.  Thankfully we set of reasonably early in the day and had an easy, scenic and straightforward journey into the town and found a place to park with ease.  As we were departing in late afternoon, there was a tailback stretching for miles in the incoming direction so it is definitely advantageous to be an early bird.  That said, while the town was absolutely heaving with people, it was happy and relaxed hustle and bustle that generated a positive buzz.

I managed to convince the kids to have their photo taken with me to commemorate our Mother’s Day trip.  You can see they look thrilled.  Their facial expressions and poses are almost identical to last year’s Mother’s Day group photo except we are not standing in front of a ruined medieval castle and we are wearing significantly fewer layers.

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The boys soon found a sculpture of a lounge chair which they loved.

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Mr Pict took the youngest two to the Children’s Museum – which they enjoyed but which he reported was definitely pitched at the lower end of the age spectrum – while the older two came to poke around in arts, crafts and antiques shops with me.  My 8 year old loves shopping and likes all things glittery and shiny which means he is quite happy to browse in shops selling creative things and unusual items.  My 11 year old was in a tweenage sulk so spent most of the shopping element of the trip sitting on the steps outside each stop while his brother and I were inside.  Because, when you are a teenager, you would rather develop haemorrhoids from sitting on bricks than mollify your parent by being co-operative.  It was sunny and hot and there were plenty of people milling around so I left him to it.

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My 8 year old and I decided to set ourselves a few missions to give our perusing a bit more focus.  We wanted to find some octopus items because we have a family tradition of locating and photographing octopus themed items and then tagging them as my youngest brother (there really is no point in explaining why), we wanted to find a penguin to cheer the 11 year old up and I wanted to find something to do with cardinals since I have been enjoying seeing them in the garden.  It was not that we planned on buying these items, of course.  It was a scavenger hunt rather than a shopping list.

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It turned out that ornamental octopi were breeding like crazy in New Hope.  We spotted our first one within milliseconds of being in the first shop we visited and then we kept on finding more and more of them.  They must be a popular creature.  We hit the jackpot, however, in one particular store where an entire shelf was dedicated to glass octopi.

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We also had success with the penguin mission as we found some glass penguins in an art shop and we completed our hunt with a pair of cardinal salt and pepper shakers in an antique shop.  We did not buy any of the scavenger hunt items but I did, however, find a few items of affordable jewellery on sale so treated myself to those and my 8 year old bought a small leather panda.  I also bought two little metal sparrows just because I liked them and they cost tuppence ha’penny.  We also managed to find some fun teacher presents which was a great result.

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As much as I love to rummage among interesting items and look at what creative people have produced in various media, it is still shopping and I am not someone who can shop until I drop.  I have a lower than average threshold for shopping probably because my Gran was an absolute shopaholic who frequently pushed my tolerance levels too far on shopping expeditions.  Indeed, my sister and I used to talk about our Gran having a “purse attack” which was a sure sign we were going to be dragged from one end of a city centre to another with our feet pulsing at an increasing tempo.  Despite this shopping experience being far more absorbing than visiting a mall, therefore, after traipsing around shops for a while, the two oldest and I headed to the bridge to meet up with Mr Pict and the two youngest boys.  We parked our derrières on the wall and people-watched in the sunshine while we waited for the other half of the family to arrive.

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Once we had all gathered back together we decided to cross the bridge across the Delaware and thus walk into another state.  We thought this would be a novel experience for the kids plus there was the lure of ice cream on the other side to motivate them.

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The crossing brought us into Lambertville, New Jersey’s equivalent to New Hope since it was filled with the same type of shops and eateries and the architectural styles matched too.  Both towns really are wonderfully picturesque.

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It was time for refreshments.  I am lactose intolerant and really cannot cope with ice cream so I used that time to nose around in a few more art shops.  I find that shops selling works of art tend to fall into one of two categories: they are either relaxed places where you can wander around studying paintings and sculptures without anyone even giving you a second glance or else they are the type of place where the person on the sales desk watches you like a hawk and appears to be monitoring and judging what you do or do not find diverting.  I experienced both types of shopping experience in Lambertville.  I returned to the rendezvous spot to find that Mr Pict and the kids had devoured their ice creams .  Ice cream beards were earned.  The littlest Pict refused to “shave” his.  We pick our battles as parents so we just let him.

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It was soon time to cross back over into Pennsylvania again and indeed time to leave New Hope.  As I had curtailed our shopping wanderings, there were streets I had not even wandered along.  However, it is somewhere I know my parents will like to explore and meander around so we will definitely come back over the summer when they are visiting.

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New Hope was filling up with people in gladrags ready to dine and celebrate Mother’s Day with their nearest and dearest.  There were queues forming outside every single eatery – including the Dairy Queen, would you believe – and the prices and logistics of the dining spaces did not really work for the dynamic of our family anyway.  We, therefore, drove for a short while and went to a Chilli’s (a favourite of the boys which means no whining from anyone – a Mother’s Day treat for me) where we all overate and I had a large blueberry margarita while the sun was still up.  Because it was Mother’s Day.

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As for my Mother’s Day gifts, the kids did a wonderful job this year as they do every year.  I received handmade, personalised cards from each of them – including one depicting a zombie bloodbath – and my 7 year old painted me a picture of a bouquet of flowers.  The littlest Pict had made an oven glove at preschool which had his name and handprints on it and the kids also gifted me a book of drawings entitled ‘Unicorn Executions’ which seemed to perfectly encapsulate their relationship to my creativity.  I also got to order my gelli plate so that I can have fun learning how to monoprint again after all these years.

It really was a lovely day.