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Blogging from Block Island: New Shoreham, RI

A visit to one incredible place.

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Named after the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, Block Island is located off the coast of Rhode Island and is home to some 1,000 residents. One of The Nature Conservancy’s “Last Great Places,” the island offers restaurants, scenic hiking trails, lighthouses to explore, a working animal farm, and various lodging options scattered throughout the countryside.

After a 9:30 AM ferry ride from Narragansett, we arrived at the heart of “downtown” Block Island and immediately began to explore the shops.

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Multiple stores and restaurants placed a focus on four-legged animals such as cats. The photograph above shows just a few of the products offered in the shops. Another store was named “Peppered Cat,” and there was even a pub called the “Yellow Kittens Tavern”!

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The Empire Theater, constructed in 1882, offers a selection of movies for visitors and residents to enjoy. It originally operated as a roller skating rink and began playing silent movies in the 1900s.

In addition to cars, mopeds and bicycles were available to rent. We opted for a Jeep to make traveling around the island a bit easier and ensure we could reach attractions on time.

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Taken from the road, this image depicts the beautiful Spring House Hotel. A Block Island historic landmark, the hotel offers views of the Atlantic Ocean, as shown below.

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We ate lunch at Rebecca’s, a quaint seafood restaurant located on the main road. The prices were relatively reasonable for Block Island (some of the restaurants are very expensive with a typical meal priced at $20). I ordered the Santa Fe Chicken Wrap with Guacamole. The wrap was filling yet deviated from the typical greasy food one might expect near the beach. In addition to wraps and sandwiches, Rebecca’s offers burgers, lobster rolls, seafood dinners, and salads.

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Though Block Island real estate is undoubtedly expensive, taking a drive past its homes is an attraction in itself. The photo below is of a resident’s backyard—note the stone sheep and stunning view!

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During the drive, it was impossible not to notice some of the unique (and often hidden) features along the streets. A New Yorker with a slightly cynical streak, I would never think to use the “honor system” and trust tourists to pay for their own lemonade, yet this photograph reminded me it’s okay to occasionally let my guard down.

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The first stop on our drive was the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1973 and home to the North Light, the first of two lighthouses we visited on the trip. Built in 1867, the North Light was sold for one dollar in 1984 to New Shoreham and is made of brown granite. This lighthouse actually uses solar power and the help of a wind generator to operate.

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After a windy drive in our green Jeep, we arrived at the second stop——the Southeast Light, situated on Mohegan Bluffs. Made a National Historic Landmark in 1997, the lighthouse was constructed from brick, concrete and granite. It is modeled after the Gothic architectural style.

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Though every attraction on Block Island has something new and exciting to offer, my favorite was Abrams’ Animal Farm, also known as the 1661 Farm and Gardens. Across the street from The 1661 Inn, the farm is home to a variety of animals, including emus, camels, pigs, alpacas, and yaks.

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An emu slyly sneaks through my shot.

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An imposing yak munches on a well-deserved piece of fruit.

One animal in particular caught my eye. Wallace, a blond Scottish Highland steer, was friendly…

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…and very curious about the unfamiliar object I was pointing at him!

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After some time at the animal farm, another shop caught my interest. North Light Fibers, a micro yarn mill and store located in the middle of Abrams’ Animal Farm, produces high quality yarn wholly produced on Block Island. They work with the Hartford Artisans Weaving Center, which teaches elderly and visually impaired citizens knitting and weaving skills, as well as Zene-Za-Zena (Women-for-Women), an organization aiding women in countries such as Bosnia.

Getting to the mill, however, was not as straightforward as it may seem. I was instructed to trek through a field of curious alpacas to reach North Light Fibers, which provided an opportunity to get up close and personal with these animals.

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Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity of products offered, from skeins to kits to handmade merchandise. The yarn is expensive—165 yards’ worth of one blend cost $39—but the opportunity to purchase what cannot be found elsewhere was difficult to pass up. I bought a skein of “Lavender Field” for a relative and eagerly explored the rest of the store.

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As our 5:15 ferry was rapidly approaching, we opted for dinner at the Mohegan Café & Brewery, a casual restaurant overlooking the water. Though more expensive than your typical evening fare, it was still a better deal than some of the nearby steakhouses and pubs.

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I ordered the Café Burrito, a vegetarian dish served with rice, salsa, and sour cream.

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As we boarded the return ferry to Narragansett, with the wind whipping around our hair, I reflected on the visit. Though I am unsure if I would ever stay there for more than a day or two—being a tourist is expensive—Block Island is certainly worth the trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogging from The Breakers: Newport, RI

A look inside one of America’s most luxurious mansions…

The next stop on our Rhode Island vacation was a self-guided tour of The Breakers. The most extravagant of the Newport mansions, The Breakers signifies the wealth and influence of the Vanderbilts—once one of America’s most powerful families.

We arrived on a crisp summer morning, the air cooled by the storm passing through Newport. For a fee, we were given access to the mansion with a pair of headphones detailing the importance of The Breakers’ rooms.

Below is a collection of some of the tour’s highlights.

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This view of the mansion shows the builders’ attention to detail even on its exterior.

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The Breakers’ garden was well-landscaped and painted a gorgeous picture beneath the cloudy sky.

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Statues, sculptures, and gargoyles were scattered throughout the grounds.

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This photo was taken from the bottom of the Grand Staircase. The skylight above was designed by John La Farge, a renowned stained glass artist.

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Another view of the Grand Staircase—the detailed tapestry depicts a scene from Alexander the Great’s life.

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The Great Hall’s ceiling—this was home to debutante balls, dances, and other formal events. President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy were guests at The Breakers in 1962, and other elite members of American (and European) society visited the mansion.

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Another view of the intricate Great Hall.

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The Dining Room hosted guests from the “400 Society” and other groups during the Gilded Age. The chandelier to the right is adorned with Baccarat crystal, and the entire room is decorated with gold. Mr. Vanderbilt even equipped The Breakers with electricity, an uncommon feature in those days.

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Dolphins, the symbol of hospitality, are just some of the creatures painted on the Billiard Room’s ceiling mosaics. Decorated to resemble an ancient Roman room, the walls are made of Cipollino marble from Switzerland.

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Modeled after the styles of the French and Italian Renaissance, the Morning Room was designed by Parisian Jules Allard. The walls are decorated with platinum, a resilient metal.

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Furnished with a variety of crystals and mirrors, the Music Room plays homage to the Vanderbilts’ musical attributes. In addition to concerts, this space hosted celebrations from balls to Gertrude Vanderbilt’s wedding.

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An avid reader, I quickly claimed the Library as one of my favorites. The walls are Circassian walnut, and the leaves pressed into the wood are made of gold.

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This bathroom’s tub was crafted from one block of marble and modeled after a Roman sarcophagus. The faucet has four taps—an extra two for hot and cold salt water, which was believed to have health benefits. Did I mention The Breakers has twenty bathrooms?

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This photo depicts the embellished ceiling of the Upper Loggia, which provided an excellent view of the lawn during parties.

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At the tour’s end, I reflected on the true significance of The Breakers. Most of us would never expect to attain the notoriety the Vanderbilts once held in American society, yet this visit reminded me it’s perfectly alright to keep dreaming those big dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogging from Black Point: Narragansett, RI

Black Point Trailhead is truly a hidden gem among the attractions dotting the Narragansett, RI shores. I stumbled upon this spot yesterday after one too many hours of sun and the desire to travel to whichever spot caught my interest. Grabbing sneakers and a sand-weathered baseball cap, I maneuvered my car through the winding roads until I reached the start of the trail.

I could spend hours describing the incredible landscape before me, but I hope these pictures speak for themselves! They serve as a reminder to slow down and appreciate the beauty existing in even the smallest of things.

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Pools of water reflected the cloudless sky overhead as groups of tourists paused for photos on the boulders. This picture was taken a few seconds before a colony of seagulls flew just a few feet over the pool.

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Though this image contains so-called “earthy hues,” its simplicity is perhaps the most striking feature. The weathered rock, reminiscent of desert-like stone, drew my attention because it was unlike the features I’ve come to associate with those of Rhode Island. The deep blues and greens we often connect with shoreline landscapes are nowhere to be found.

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Yet beneath the surface, one can see this environment is anything but colorless.

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Barnacles and snails dotted the red rocks, providing a beautiful contrast from the tens of thousands of black clams. This “valley” was actually a mere four feet of water.

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I spotted several crabs scurrying beneath in seconds. Though this picture shows their undersides, these little guys were very much alive.

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A gorgeous contrast from the others, the rocks became home to beach towels as spots were quickly claimed to watch the crashing waves. Black Point, a popular fishing area, is an excellent place to unwind and relax during a hot summer day.

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Another pool, this one closer still to the ocean, received some traffic in the afternoon as visitors stopped to take pictures or eat an early dinner on the rocks.

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The visit emphasized all the awe-inspiring forces—weathering, erosion, and so many others—making this beautiful place what it is today.  Black Point is one of those trails you cannot help but frequent over and over again.

 

Ketchup on Waffles and Other Things We Eat at Diners

It’s 9 PM, well after the usual dinnertime rush…

via Daily Prompt: Loop

I’ve frequented the same diner since the age of five. My parents would travel an hour away from their rural home with three kids in tow to attend open houses in the suburbs. Touring homes was every kindergartner’s dream—basements became dungeons, attics were castles towering above the highest of clouds. Carpets were begging to be played on, and that elusive fourth bedroom for a family of five was just in reach.

Over the years, a second home found itself at the diner. Waitresses would dote on our family, slipping extra packages of crackers with our vegetable soup and providing an abundance of crayons for us kids to scribble furiously with on placemats. Yet one day, something changed. The kids were in their teenage years, and the dynamic wasn’t what it usually was. Staring into my cracker-less soup, I realized problems sometimes extend beyond the walls of a house.

Fast forward to the present. The four of us, fraternal twins and two close friends from high school, huddle in a booth toward the back of the diner. It’s 9 PM, well after the usual dinnertime rush. With an artist’s flair my friend drizzles syrup and ketchup onto her Belgian waffle. A waitress—a girl our age—spies the unusual combination and eyes our table with the perfect mix of disgust and confusion. We laugh. The hostess seats a group of three older ladies in the booth behind us, and we scramble to the display case of desserts when it is discovered they are, in fact, our teachers from elementary school.

A lot occurred as I matured from a five-year-old to a rising college sophomore. Some hard lessons learned, a life both enriched and complicated by difficult times—I emerged a girl with a more balanced, if not cynical, view of the world and all its unanswered questions. This diner has been there through it all, with its steaming bowls of soup, stained-glass lamps, and artfully arranged bouquets of flowers spilling over the booths.

My mind surfaced from its fog, I recognize the waitress who has served our family since my now-teenage sister was in a high chair. The memories slip into a comfortable loop. I’ve moved on from my standard meal of mac and cheese and refusal to eat broccoli. But when I eat that first spoonful of chocolate ice cream, I realize some things never change. That’s a reassuring thing.

When It Pays to Panic

via Daily Prompt: Meddle

As I mentioned in an earlier post, cooking is a form of therapy for me—a way to determine my purpose in life and center myself after those overwhelming days. Most nights it isn’t a challenge to whip up a fresh batch of cookies or broil salmon with a maple-rosemary glaze for dinner. But as all those who spend time in the kitchen know, sometimes there are moments when nothing seems to be going right.

I was making flourless pancakes with a blueberry compote last week when disaster struck. Everything was going well. I zested a lemon with ease. The perfect mix of bananas, eggs, baking powder, and salt pureed in the blender. A generous splash of coconut oil went into the skillet, and it was time to pour the batter. And that’s when something went wrong.

The first pancake was flipped too soon and resembled something straight from a Dr. Seuss classic. A second clouded the small kitchen with smoke, inciting panic on my end. Hurriedly opening the first-floor windows, I prayed the smoke detector wouldn’t go off. One hour passed, then two. I eyed the pancakes sizzling in the pan with intense concentration and held my breath as they were flipped.

After three pancakes were placed on each of the five plates and generously covered in the blueberry-lemon mixture, I slumped in a chair.

Maybe cooking just isn’t for me.

But as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I reminded myself why cooking was so important to me. It provided a fresh start, a chance to “do it all over again” and discover what I love. And like all chefs, amateur or otherwise, I need to start somewhere.

 

 

Across the Creek

via Daily Prompt: Relieved

There’s something about returning to your old high school stomping grounds during an evening walk. I experienced this the other night with a friend, and it posed an opportunity to reflect on my life before college.

Sometimes I need to revisit the places I’ve been to remind myself what is in store for me now. This was no exception—as we walked through the tennis courts, running our fingers across the chain-link fences and kicking those forlorn green balls out of our path, I couldn’t help but remember this same moment just a few years ago. Call it déjà vu, call it coincidence, but as I kicked the last of the tennis balls into the grass, my mind wandered to the days when we’d play, six to a team, for those last forty-six minutes of the morning before rushing to the next class.

The conversation lapsed into one of recipes—seared steak served over a tomato and blue cheese salad, maple salmon with walnuts—like many things in life, it comfortably circled back to food. We climbed the hills surrounding the brick school buildings, alone save for a janitor shutting the power off for the night. Rabbits, shifty ones with nervous eyes and powerful back legs, darted across the overgrown reeds. After a shortcut through the adjacent neighborhood, home to residents who often called school officials to complain about students parking haphazardly in front of their driveways, we reached the elementary school.

Having never attended public school until my teenage years, I held no connection to this place. But its friendly sign, decorations in pastel colors, and impressive playground held vague memories of childhood and all that comes with time. Named for the creek running through one section of the forest, the school became crowded by New York residential developments over the years. Even as we cautiously scaled the hillside, my friend and I were aware of neighbors murmuring from their patio sets.

Wading in the creek is a pastime from our parents’ generation. It was times like these I longed for the cornfields and overgrown swamps of my own childhood. We were older now, but the creek invited the curiosity we often miss as adults with obligations and schedules. Crossing it was another thing entirely.

I held my breath, steadying myself as water rushed over the slippery rocks. One step, a wave of relief, and the moment was cut short by the realization I would need to make it a little further across to capture that perfect shot. My sneakers filled with water as I raised my arms, balancing as wire-walkers do on a taut line.

I made it across the creek that day with minimal scratches—an impressive feat for a self-proclaimed klutz. And as I waited for the camera to focus, sunlight peeked through the trees and bathed the forest in golden light.

There was more to this evening, of course. Hot fudge sundaes at the nearby convenience store, a four-mile walk through the neighborhoods, and subsequent admiration of each home’s eclectic features. Conversations about movies, music, democracies, and fireflies. I made it home as the first lightning strikes pierced the sky.

My life is far different from the one I lived in high school. But as Dr. Seuss once said, “Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. Oh! The places you’ll go!”

Cardinals, Catholics, and Frank Sinatra? Finding Truth in Unfamiliar Spaces

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

The opening verse to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” echoed throughout Tauron Arena Kraków, familiar words to the several thousand young Americans gathered for the day’s catechesis session. Every World Youth Day pilgrim immediately leaned forward in his or her seat.

The singer? Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila. His friendly smile projected onto the giant screens, Cardinal Tagle spoke of this famous song and its connection to the “culture of success” in our society.

“We always convince ourselves [that] you can be what you want to be. And do it by yourself. If you allow others to help you, to guide you, you do not qualify as successful.”

His idea of a “self-made human being” is not uncommon, especially in a world where the individual is key to a productive workforce, family, etc. Children, especially girls, are taught in many settings to become the archetype of these “strong, independent” leaders—people who generate their self-worth from success and frown upon failure. I, too, often thrive on perfectionism, this idea that every decision I make must be planned, calculated, and implemented to help my pursuits.

Cardinal Tagle’s words from last summer came at a point of reflection this evening after a long and emotionally draining week. I always reverted to my daily routine by each day’s end: cooking dinner, doing the laundry, washing the dishes, and so on. These chores provide the sense of independence I need as a college student home for the summer. But adulthood is more than washing a plate or broiling fish. It’s more than valuing both successes and mistakes because I claim them as my own. It’s about recognizing the spiritual influences in my life and thanking those who shaped me into the person I am today.

Similarly, Sinatra’s lyrics are more than just part of a catchy song. Sure, they emphasize a healthy dose of control over our lives. But independence can be too much of a good thing if it stops us from recognizing the hand there all along.