Concord, Massachusetts

Historic homes of America’s literary finest! Cute antique shops! A quaint New England town! These are all statements I’ve heard about Concord, Massachusetts. And then, when I saw the Orchard House while watching Little Women (the one with Winona Ryder) this winter and learned that parts of the movie were actually filmed in Concord, I knew I had to get there. So for our annual Adventure Day, my mother in law Karen and I headed to Concord, Massachusetts.img_7583First on our loose agenda was The Alcott Family’s Orchard House, pictured above. This is indeed what the front of the house looked like in the movie I watched, but pretty much everything else was different. I don’t know why it didn’t hit me that we are visiting the house in 2017, not the 1800s, but I was expecting the orchards, gardens, and surrounding stately homes (Lorie’s house!? haha) pictured in the movie. Instead, we have this beautiful home, full of history, right on the side of what is now a very loud and busy road. And all of the land surrounding the house has been chopped up into house lots. Ah, “Progress”… But, I digress. It was still exciting to be able to tour the Alcott’s former home. Our tour guide was very thorough and knowledgable and shared the highlights of this interesting family’s accomplishments, struggles, and day to day minutiae. Sadly, no photography was allowed in the house, which is a shame, but I do understand. The tours would take twice as long if everyone was clamoring over one another to all get photos of everything. My favorite part of the house were the drawings and paintings done by May Alcott, the youngest daughter, many of them drawn directly on the walls. The Alcott family couldn’t afford to buy their daughter art paper so they let the walls be her canvases and drawing paper but only if she was “trying her very best”. I love that so much. Bravo Bronson and Marmee! Not only did I think it was stellar parenting, but what a talent their daughter truly had! These weren’t just doodles on the walls, she drew ancient figures, cherubs, portraits, and animals- all done so well! It’s worth doing the tour just to see May’s artwork.
img_7591img_7585It was also very touching to see the very writing desk Louisa May used to write her novels, and we learned that she wrote Little Women in just 6 weeks! Touring the house was worth doing, it was a definite highlight of our day trip to Concord. We felt a bit hungry after the tour (it was about an hour long), and I saw a place called Haute Coffee on my maps app, so we headed there. It was a good choice.

Karen and I both drink decaf (such a sadness for me) but this place had some very decent decaf. I can only imagine what their regular espresso must taste like, yum!! Randomly and kindly (hehe) we were the happy victims of a random act of kindness when the women in front of us in line paid for our coffees. Thank you, lady in front of us! Their lunch food was excellent too (homemade pickles served with our grilled sandwiches!), all around just a great spot. Highly recommended for a light lunch and awesome coffee.img_7615img_7611img_7619

img_7643Our hunger sated and our yummy decafs consumed, we took to the streets for a stroll to see the historic homes and businesses up close. We wandered into an open art gallery. We poked into a few shops. We went into a florist that was hugely expensive (a recurring theme in a lot of the shops I found out…) but still beautiful to look around anyways. My favorite shop by far was Nesting. A small shop at the top of a plant-lined staircase, it was packed literally to the brim with unique home decorations, natural curiosities, beauty and bath supplies, jewelry, stationary, kids toys, and antiques. There was so much to look at it was hard to know where to start. But we meandered on through, ooing and awing as we went.img_7635img_7637

img_7633img_7638We then poked around a couple of antiques shops, and even stumbled upon a little gem of a place, a small cheese and wine shop, which we strolled around happily. I had wanted to also include a trip to nearby Walden Pond, but when we drove the few miles down the road to it, we found it completely packed and not free. Just as well, because at that point in the day, I was very tired out (still feeling the slight effects of anesthesia from a procedure at the hospital the day before while simultaneously coming down with a cold). So we bid Concord goodbye and headed on home.img_7646img_7652

img_7649While I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Concord (fatigue set aside), I wouldn’t rush to get back there (unless I started to drink caffeinated coffee again that is, Haute Coffee I would go!). I did find it overly expensive, and quite loud with traffic and crowded with people (though it was just a random Wednesday). I suppose it is essentially a busy suburb of Boston, so I shouldn’t have expected a quaint New England village with people impersonating Emerson and Hawthorne running around the streets. Creepy as that might have been, I did expect a quieter type of place. But, as all of the brilliant writers and thinkers who inhabited Concord no doubt sensed even in their time (maybe especially in their time), progress marches on. Sometimes for good. But more often than not, progress just leads to less quiet time for writing and thinking (I think).img_7589

Tropical Air in New England

When the months of March and April roll around, nearly everyone in New England (even a winter lover like me) is ready for some warm weather. It’s true we do get the occasional 70 degree day in springtime, but mostly it’s just in-between-limbo weather: not too warm to enjoy being outside and not cold enough to be snug in by a fire. This March was particularly cold. On one really raw and rainy day, almost freezing, my husband and I decided we needed some air that felt tropical, so we headed down to The Butterfly Place in Westford, MA. fullsizeoutput_15d7MagicWings2We are enormous fans of butterfly conservatories. Just sitting in the warm air watching the butterflies flit by is so calming. For our 3rd anniversary last year we chose to take a day trip to another butterfly conservatory in Massachusetts: Magic Wings in Deerfield. Both conservatories offer tropical plants, warm air, exotic birds, little quails running around (the quail are the “clean-up crew”), soothing background music, small ponds with fish, and of course, butterflies of all kinds. The photos in this post were taken from the two separate visits to the two separate locations.

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Overall, we enjoyed Magic Wings a lot more than The Butterfly Place, although, being in Deerfield, it is a much further trek from where we live. Magic Wings is much bigger then The Butterfly Place in Westford, and offers more secluded sitting spaces. It also has a wider variety of flowers; it is literally a large indoor tropical botanic garden. While both places have a pond, the pond at Magic Wings is larger and has a bridge over it, where one can perch and watch the huge, multi-colored koi fish swim. I’m not trying to downgrade The Butterfly Place, but Magic Wings is just a truly special experience that can be made into a day long adventure. When we went there last fall, Ethan and I sat under a plant covered arbor for nearly two hours, just soaking it all in.fullsizeoutput_15d4

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MagicWings16MagicWings1So if you need an escape into 80 degree air, and want to feel like you are in a tropical paradise for a couple of hours, look no farther than either one of Massachusetts’ beautiful butterfly conservatories. While Magic Wings holds a special place in our hearts, The Butterfly Place is worth a trip also. You might even have a butterfly land on you 🙂MagicWings11

Worcester, You Surprised Me.

Worcester, Massachusetts. Generally not on the top of my list of places I want to go (to be honest). It’s usually the city I am zooming through on my way to get somewhere else. It appears to be just houses on top of houses. I never thought of it as overly interesting or appealing. However, my own preconceived Worcester ideas were recently corrected on two separate trips to the city.
img_5133On one of my trips there, a lovely local friend showed me a few of her favorite spots in Worcester. The first was a interesting plant and curiosity shop called Seed to Stem. It is chock full of little succulents, fossils, gems, ferns, and other tropical looking plants. The shop feels like you are stepping into a giant cabinet of curiosities, it’s really awesome. Walking around there was literally a breath of fresh air; because of the abundance of plants in there, it just felt like the cleanest air you could possibly breathe. fullsizeoutput_1513

fullsizeoutput_14f2fullsizeoutput_151afullsizeoutput_1514Cool shop, right?! The building which houses Seed to Stem is also home to some other really funky and unique shops and cafes (even a barber shop). We poked around the Crompton Collective, a mixed dealer antiques/vintage shop which also displays work from local artists and makers. All of this goodness can be found at 138 Green Street in Worcester. It’s definitely worth checking out! To top off our day, we got lunch at a great little Middle Eastern restaurant called Bahnan’s Bakery, which can be found at 344 Pleasant Street in Worcester. I enjoyed some fresh falafel with yogurt sauce and a yummy cabbage salad. I got some grape leaves stuffed with rice and sausage to go, and they were delicious as well.

A couple of months later, I made a second trip to Worcester to attend the Worcester Art Museums’ Flora in Winter. Local florists are assigned a piece of artwork from the Museum’s collection and create elaborate floral arrangements based on the piece. The floral works of art are scattered throughout the entire museum, paired with the piece of artwork that inspired them. It’s fun to go through a museum as it is, but when there are gorgeous and creative flower arrangements around just about every corner, it makes for an extra special museum day. (Seed to Stem even had an arrangement on display for Flora in Winter, third picture below).img_0086fullsizeoutput_12d7img_0071

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img_0152img_0105I had never gone to the Worcester Museum of Art before, and I enjoyed it. It isn’t huge or sprawling like the Boston Museum of Fine Art, which was nice, because I didn’t feel like I was wandering in continuous circles missing things (as I often feel whenever I’m at the MFA in Boston). It is easy to see why Flora in Winter is WMA’s most popular and biggest fundraising event. The flower arrangements really made the Museum shine. I don’t think I would go back there, unless it was during their Flora in Winter display. It was just so interesting how the different florists interpreted their assigned artwork. There were also just big and colorful arrangements placed throughout the halls between the galleries, making the whole atmosphere of the Museum more inviting. There is no date yet for the Flora in Winter display for 2018, but I hope you and I can make it there for it.img_0120Worcester, you surprised me. It just goes to show me, yet again, the importance of keeping an open mind; and to never be guided by my own assumptions. fullsizeoutput_1515

Strawberry Banke

If you love colonial New England history and architecture, there are few places better to visit than Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, NH. Strawberry Banke is living history as it’s finest; a colonial village of historic homes that guests can stroll through at their leisure. Each home is decorated in a different historic American style, and docents at each home explain who lived there and what happened at the homes. There are also people dressed in period clothing who are sprinkled throughout doing various colonial jobs and tasks such as basket weaving, cobbling leather shoes, and tending the beautiful gardens.img_4028img_3971img_4035We made a special trip to Strawberry Banke for their annual Harvest Festival, which is held every October. If you look at the photo above, you can see the white tent set up. The tent was filled with local craftsmen and artisans selling their wares and works. There were also demonstrations going on, such as sheep herding and more animals on display than usual. The festival gave a lively and bustling atmosphere to an already wonderful place. We were a little worried about crowds, but it didn’t feel overly crowded because most people stayed around the main lawn where the tents were set up.img_4021My favorite thing about the place were the gardens (surprise, surprise). The big one behind the main ticket office is very formal and beautiful, with a fountain in the center. Most of the houses have a small section of garden near them, which are all beautiful in their own way. There are also many whimsical touches scattered around: a wooden tower made from weathered saplings decorated with strands of seashells and gourds, a little china tea set laid out on a log table, a dwelling made of branches kids can crawl into, and various arbors and trellises climbing with vines. We also enjoyed seeing the old greenhouse, filled with interesting plants, garden tools, and pretty vignettes.img_3965img_4009img_4002
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Most of the houses were open for self-guided touring, so we poked into many of them. The colonial decor varied in each house for different time periods, which kept it really interesting. I really liked the weaving house, and a nice woman there taught me the very basics of how to weave on a loom and let me give it a try.

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I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Strawberry Banke. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting there during autumn and the Harvest Festival, but I’m sure it’s beautiful at any time of year. Also, check with your local library to see if they offer passes to the museum. We used our library’s passes, and were able to save $19 each on admission (the full cost). That made it an even better time at such a lovely place. img_4076

An Afternoon at the Harris Center

Nestled deep in beautiful Hancock, New Hampshire, the Harris Center for Conservation Education is the perfect place to take a walk. The grounds are open to the public and they welcome leashed dogs as well. I happened to be there a couple of weeks ago for an appreciation luncheon that the Hancock Town Library was putting on for it’s staff and volunteers. After a delicious meal and an educational and amusing lecture by one of the Center’s senior Naturalists, the guests funneled out to the parking lot but I just wasn’t ready to leave. The sun was finally out after a cloudy morning and the beautiful grounds of the Harris Center were calling to me… Processed with Snapseed.

I don’t know very much about the history of the house itself other than that it was a grand country summer estate in times past. The historical details on the property abound, from the built in stone benches tucked away under massive wisteria and grape vines to the diagonally latticed windows which make me feel like I’ve stepped into the English countryside. The stone work has just settled into the landscape as if it has always been there. And though I went there towards the end of September, the flower gardens were still filled with colorful blooms, especially the pollinators garden, which was mindfully planted with the appetite of native species of bees and butterflies in mind. The pollinators garden was humming with life as I carefully wound along the globe thistle, butterfly bushes, and coneflower. The garden was planted in the property’s former swimming pool- what a good repurposing idea! Planting flowers is always a good choice.

Processed with Snapseed.Because I was alone, I stuck to the grounds and did not venture out into the surrounding woods. They do have a vast trail system however, and one day I would like to explore all of them. Check out their list of trails here, on their website. But I was more than happy to stick to the grounds and spent well over an hour meandering about. They’ve kept most of the surrounding grassy areas as natural meadow except for pleasant mown paths which lead around the entire property in a large circle. On the far edge near the road, I found a patch of giant sunflowers, just about gone by. I will have to remember it’s there next year and visit just a couple weeks earlier so I can see them in their glory. Processed with Snapseed.

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So if you’re ever looking for a quiet, beautiful place to spend a bit of time look no further than the Harris Center in Hancock, NH. I could have sat on the old stone bench eating grapes from the vines over my head for hours (if the bench wasn’t covered in squashed grapes that is haha) I did sneak a few grapes 🙂 Processed with Snapseed.

Antiques & Castle Hill

Recently, my mother in law and I have instituted Adventure Days- and I highly recommend  them. When both of us happen to have a free day at the same time, we fill up the gas tank, chose a direction, and set off to explore the area fully. Because it doesn’t happen very often, I think long and hard about our itinerary to make sure we see as much as we can and don’t miss anything special in the areas that we drive to. Our most recent jaunt took us to North-Central Massachusetts where we planned to spend our day checking out various antique stores we could find, having lunch in the historic town of Groton, and hiking to the ruins of a Castle on Gibbet Hill in Groton. We did just that, and it was splendid.

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img_1977Seriously, this castle ruin is amazing (Castle History and Map to Ruins Here).  All that is left now is the field stone shell, which is slowly being gloriously taken over by creeping ivy leaves (yes!). This place would be a perfect backdrop for any kind of photography session, especially an engagement shoot, you know, the romantic creeping ivy and all. Besides the beauty of the castle, there is also the hilltop setting to take in. The quick ten minute hike to get up there lends itself to a beautiful view of Groton’s countryside.

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Beautiful huh? You really need to go there to take in this view. Here’s how you get up there- From the town of Groton’s lovely center, take Route 40 (Lowell Road). Less than a mile up that road you will see Gibbet Hill Grill restaurant on the left. Soon after that, you will start seeing small dirt pull-offs on the left hand side of the road. Park in any one of these and the path to the castle runs parallel to Lowell Road and then eventually deviates uphill to the castle. Depending on where you park, it is only a 5 to 10 minute walk up to the castle, with gorgeous country views the entire way.

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We enjoyed lunch in Groton center at Salt & Light Cafe Bistro (159 Main Street, Groton MA) which served fresh and healthy food creatively- my favorite style. It was a well-decorated (look at that couch!), clean place with friendly service and a fairly large menu that we thoroughly enjoyed. Scattered throughout the day we visited a few of the area’s antique shops. The first shop was Hobart Village (445 Main St, West Townsend MA), a sprawling, 2 story, mixed-dealer shop filled to the brim with antiques. Also in West Townsend is my personal favorite shop that I’ve found so far, My Husband & I Antiques (443 Main Street West Townsend MA). Unfortunately when we visited the owner was in the middle of a messy re-decoration of the shop, so my mother in law didn’t get to have the full experience. But usually the shop is styled so well- a mixture of curated antiques (many from France) and natural objects. I love when shops take the time to chose and style their items. The other shops we visited, all of which were fun and worth a visit if you like antiquing, were  The Spaulding Cooperage (1 South St, Townsend MA), Jeffrey’s Antiques (62 Chase Road, Lunenburg MA), and Upton House Antiques (275 King Street, Littleton MA). Go to Upton House if you like primitives!

What a nice time we had, and not very far from home! If you know of any other great antique shops (especially in Massachusetts) please let me know in the comments. I’m always looking to poke around in new ones. Thanks for stopping by the blog today. I will finish up with my favorite photo of the day ~ Until next time, Callista.

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An Autumn Fun To-Do List

It could be because my husband and I lived in a warm climate during this past winter making this my 8th straight month of warm weather, or it could be because we have had the hottest, driest summer on record, or it could be just because I love the changing seasons; but I am really excited for fall. The foliage is already starting to change, and though people are saying we won’t have the same brilliant color display we had last autumn, fall in New England is still such a special time of year.
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As I was contemplating the delightful change of season the other day it occurred to me that I ought to make an “Autumn Fun” to-do list. Because doesn’t Autumn just seem like the most fleeting season? Hopefully a to-do list will allow me to make the most of fall before it slips right by me. So without further ado, here is my…

Autumn Fun To-Do List:

  1. Go apple picking! That also entails the subsequent Apple related cooking and baking. This year I hope to make a lot of apple butter and apple sauce, and have someone show me (again) how to can it safely so I can enjoy those treats year round.
  2. A corn maze would be fun. I know there is a huge maze in Sterling, Massachusetts. I also did a really fun one in Lee, New Hampshire many years ago. There is a small one at Washburn’s Windy Hill Orchard in Greenville, New Hampshire that is also a lot of fun. I’m not sure why wandering around lost for an hour in a field is so enjoyable, but alas it is. Especially at night when it is creepy.
  3. Enjoy a pumpkin spice latte. Preferably on a rainy day so I can take a walk after, admiring the colors while wearing wellies and using an umbrella. Yes I know this is rather specific, and with the current weather trend we may never get rain again. However, now that it is on the list, it is more likely to happen. That is just how it goes with to-do lists. Even if the rain doesn’t come (which I sincerely hope it does and not just for reason of providing an atmospheric setting to enjoy a fall beverage), I will still get the pumpkin latte. One cannot resist the fall flavors.
  4. Go to a fair or festival. At least one. I’m very bummed to be missing the Common Ground Fair in Maine this weekend (for the third year in a row! something always comes up!) but I am hoping to get to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival. You can be sure I will post about it if I get there.
  5. Take a hike, or maybe a few hikes. The crisp fall air is perfect for a hike, and the foliage just adds to the already stunning views. I especially would like to climb Mount Monadnock. My one and only hiking experience with this beloved mountain was not a positive one. I was separated from my group and spent an hour wandering down, not sure if I was on a trail or not, fearing I was lost for good, envisioning headlines declaring my death by bear attack or exposure. Yes, yes, I survived, and perhaps I am being a tad dramatic. Anyways, I would like to give the mountain another go.
  6. Plant bulbs. It never fails that the fall goes by, winter passes, and the spring flowers start emerging. And there I am kicking myself again that I forgot to plant bulbs in the fall. That’s not going to happen again! This spring, I will have daffodils and tulips coming up, I assure you. I also must remember to plant garlic, lots of it! I want braids and braids of it come spring time.

So, there you have it. This is what I hope to be doing in my time off this autumn. What is on your autumn fun to-do list?