Bicycles, Bridges, and Bulbs. Oh, my!

This past Saturday, March 11, Nancy and I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show for the 14th consecutive time. Our first date was at the 2004 Flower Show on March 8. I proposed at the 2011 Flower Show (it was Paris year after all). It has become a long-running beloved tradition for us. It’s hard to believe next year we will celebrate our 15th time going together. How time flies.

Enter the Haggis

The night before the show, we arrived in Upper Darby, dropped off the little man, and then continued on to Bethlehem, PA’s beautiful arts complex down by the renovated “steel stack” district to see our favorite Celtic band, Enter the Haggis, perform. From 8 to 10:30 PM ETH played in the third floor lounge while we drank Woodchuck and sampled bleu cheese chips and bread pudding. Their two sets – consisting entirely of up tempo familiar songs – were rousing and fun. John Adams listens relentlessly to a lot of their new music, so we got a lot of laughs out of hearing live many songs that we are bombarded with daily by him. We had a great experience, drove home to Nancy’s parents’ house, and went to bed sometime after midnight.

At the 2017 Flower Show

The next day we got up late, had breakfast, and went downtown to the Flower Show by early afternoon. This year’s theme, Holland, truly was a breath of spring as compared to the last few years’ themes, which were good unto themselves, but executed with sometimes mixed results. This year it seemed every exhibitor took the theme to heart, but also had the same impressions in mind. That might sound like a dig, but it’s not. The resulting displays were largely all gorgeous. They were almost all decorated with bulbs, bridges over water features, and lots and lots of bicycles. There were big bridges and small foot paths. There were functioning bicycles, rusted bicycles, bicycles as fountains, artsy bicycle sculptures, and whatever else you can think of. And the bulbs were every color of the rainbow and everywhere. One stunning blue tulip was actually a white one that had been fed water with blue dye. The dye travels through the petals and colors the flower. Gorgeous. In addition to the floral displays, there were themed food vendors, both a Legoland and a butterfly pavilion (neither of which we did this year), and lots of shopping. We brought back a few herbs for John Adams to plant and Nancy bought a dandelion seed necklace that she’s been eyeing for several years.

The plaque at our table.

We capped our downtown experience off with a visit to the incomparable 4th and Bainbridge Deli for soup and a pastrami cheese steak. Their meats (and portions) are out of this world, and we could only eat so much, as we were heading back to Nancy’s parents’ house for cheeseburgers with the family that evening. After we were seated at the deli, we noticed a plaque indicating that President Obama and Senator Bob Casey Jr. had dined at our same table back in 2010 when they visited; just one more fun little memory to commemorate our experience.

The next day we all gathered at Wron and Sara’s for a mega-ham dinner with lots of delicious sides before heading back to King George, VA. We were full and tired, happy and wired. It had been a beautiful event-filled weekend to celebrate our “dating anniversary.”  If you are so inclined, I highly recommend the Philly Flower Show. Every year is different and it’s always worth seeing. And eating at the 4th Street Deli is like nothing else. Both events are pricey, but ultimately worth it. Enter the Haggis is a rollicking good time and not expensive. I also recommend eating at Nancy’s parents’ house, but call ahead in case my in-laws have plans. 🙂

I wish you all a little bit of winter joy as well.

Namaste,

Jason

Blue tulips

Walden Revisited

There are magical places on the planet. Not everyone perceives the magic of a place at the same time, and some places are not magical for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that that particular place isn’t magical; just that perhaps it’s not magical for you. Places such as the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls are awe inspiring due to their beauty and the romantic stories that have grown up around them over the last century and a half. Macchu Picchu and the Pyramids of Egypt remind us of the ancients, and for some they act as transmitters, allowing visitors to communicate verbally and non-verbally with those that have crossed over. The Camino de Santiago in France and Spain lies along ley lines of energy, and it is said that pilgrims who endure the walk across northern Spain are assured of a spiritual experience. For John Muir, Yosemite was his great awakening place. The list is exhaustive and eclectic, and it’s my hope to visit as many of the commonly held magical places as I can before I choose to cross over. This past weekend I had such an opportunity.

Walden Pond, August 2015

Walden Pond, August 2015

From Thursday, July 30th through Sunday, August 1st my wife and I camped at the Boston Minuteman Campground in Littleton, MA, the closest campground we could find to our real target destinations, the city of Concord, and Walden Pond. Both Concord and Walden are magical places for those who are seeking their kind of magic. Nancy and I, both fans of great thinkers, made our pilgrimage of sorts to visit and revisit sites that we had seen or missed a few years ago on our first venture into the area. Concord was once home to some of the greatest minds that America has ever seen: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, the Alcott family, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller and others. Much of their legacy is still preserved about town and is the principal source of tourism in the area. Nancy and I toured the Concord Museum and saw Thoreau’s writing desk on which he penned his enduring classic, Walden. We saw Emerson’s study preserved as it was when he used it. We toured the Emerson House and the Old Manse, houses that both Emerson and Hawthorne inhabited and wrote Nature and Mosses from an Old Manse respectively in. And we hiked up to Author’s Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and visited the graves of Emerson, Thoreau, the Alcotts, sculptor Daniel Chester French, and poet William Ellery Channing. The magic of Concord and the voices still whispering to be heard are deafening and hard to miss if you’re paying attention. I’m not prepared to say at this point what the trip meant to me spiritually, but being immersed in the energy of such great, artistic, and progressive minds is overwhelming and I’m still in the afterglow of being near where they lived and worked.

On Sunday, August 1st, Nancy and I had a much longed-for brunch at the Concord Colonial Inn and then headed off for the day into the magic that is Walden Pond. When last we visited a few years ago, Walden was practically a deserted place. This time, during swimming season, it was teeming with people wading, swimming, hiking, reading, and having all forms of summer fun. In fact, it was so overrun that twice while we were there the park service actually closed the park gates from further visitation. For many of the folks there I would guess Walden was not so much a spiritual place as a recreational one. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s hard to see the magic of a place when you live in its shadow every day. Nancy and I hiked the quarter mile around the lake to the site of Thoreau’s cabin and, while there were still sunbathers, the population was quiet and much less numerous. Many other pilgrims have trucked it out to the site, and piled stone markers—some with inscriptions, some not—were aplenty as reminders of what his writing and his life have meant to the world. In the shadow of the site we sat on the shore, waded our feet, took photos, took a little water, and listened to the sounds of nature. The clouds, according to Nancy, were so perfect they almost looked painted in the sky. Walden Pond, populated or not, could still reveal its magic. All we had to do was stop, look, and listen.

On the way home from Massachusetts, Nancy and I discussed the magnificent weekend we had: sitting by the campfire, visiting the homes and graves of great men and women, eating delicious meals, wading in the shadow of Thoreau’s experiment in self-reliance. (We also toured Boston and Quincy and saw the Adams family properties, but that’s a conversation for another day.) We couldn’t decide fully what our trip had meant. I had pressed for it, but even I wasn’t sure what I hoped to achieve by it. All I had known was that I’d been in a very stressful and uncertain place in my life and my heart told me to go back to Walden, to Concord, to look for answers. A week later I’m still waiting for definite answers to some of my life’s questions, but I do feel strengthened by my memories of visiting two such magical places, and that might be just enough to get me through. But whatever the perceived lasting benefit, no time spent in a magical place of your own choosing is ever wasted. It will change you.

What magical place is calling you?

Namsate

Wading in the shores of Walden Pond.

Wading in the shores of Walden Pond.

A Lesson from Massanutten

From July 17 to the 24th of this month, my family and I had a truly marvelous thing happen to us. A church friend and colleague of ours (whom I will not name here) has been going through some difficult times in her personal life and has been doing some ‘wellness’ traveling. In possession of a one week trip to the resort community in western Virginia known as Massanutten, while simultaneously booked onto an Alaskan cruise, she found that she was unable to fit both sets of travel plans into her schedule. The result of this double-booking was that she looked at my wife and said, “How would you all like a vacation for a week?” As ridiculous as that sounds, that really is a fairly accurate distillation of the circumstances. To say that we were thrilled would be an understatement. People don’t usually give vacations away (unless you’re Oprah), and given our tenuous financial situation, and with our son being almost two and constantly in motion, we had no defined plans to vacation; certainly not for a week.

Massanutten, located just outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia, was really a magical place. For seven days we swam in three different pools including an indoor water park, sampled the Blue Ridge buffet, toured the petting zoo, onsite arboretum, and ate at the area restaurants. We took side trips to the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum on the campus of James Madison University, went twice into Shenandoah National Park, and knocked one off my bucket list by seeing the Natural Bridge of Thomas Jefferson fame. We hiked, grilled, swam, and even rode an elephant named Beautiful, who truly was. All in all it was a wonderful trip in which we bonded as a young family should. And it all was made possible by the generosity of one friend who, while undergoing life’s wild vicissitudes, said, “Have this one on me.”

Nancy, John Adams, and I astride Beautiful

Nancy, John Adams, and I astride Beautiful

It’s very easy to get caught up in the drama of our personal lives; I know this only too well. And the problems of life never seem to lighten, especially the financial ones where my family is concerned. But how wonderful to know and remember that there are people out there who are also ‘going through it,’ but instead of turning inward to ruminate on their own problems they turn outward and try to bring a little joy into the lives of others. There’s no question that our friend did that for my family, most especially for our John Adams, who I think has developed a lifelong love of water slides. So thank you, friend, for a beautiful week of memories. But even more so, thank you for being an example of a good and generous person with a big heart. May we all learn from your example and bring some joy into the lives of those around us no matter what our personal traumas might be.

Thanks for the lesson.

Thanks for the memories.

A parakeet attack at the Natural Bridge Zoo with ticklish results.

A parakeet attack at the Natural Bridge Zoo with ticklish results.