Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Lovely Vermont

Just a quick note because it's late.

We drove from western Mass to Vermont today. We stopped in for a truly amazing evening at Andras & Deirdre's farm near Worthington, dear and wonderful people who I haven't seen in far too long. (Again, lots of pictures to come soon.) We're now near Ascutney, Vermont, visiting a high school friend of The Babe's. It's amazing to me how heavily forested it is in Western Mass and Vermont. I dunno; I expected it was going to look like... oh, New Jersey or something.

Going to shower and head off to bed.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

SiteCoach--a real piece of shit product

I'm using the hotel's computer (better connection than in our room via wireless). They've got the computers in their guest business center set up with a product called SiteCoach. It's got built-in censoring filters and everything. So far, we've had it tell us that the Northwest page of the Tacoma News Tribune violates their policies and that an ad that showed up on the United Comics website when we were trying to look at "Frazz" was also too racy for us to see. I'm sure that there are other helpful sites that you couldn't get to simply because they don't want you to see them.

Perhaps even more annoying, I can't break around their software (and I keep getting kiosk ads on the side of the page, so I'm stuck using their crappy Internet Exploder here). Since IE doesn't allow something intelligent like tabbed browsing, I have to open a new window each time I want to look at something separately without losing where I was. If you get too many windows open--and we sure ain't talking a dozen here, y'understand--the software won't let you open them. Well, hell, if the computer isn't unhappy, what's YOUR problem?

All I can say is "WHAT A P.O.S.!!!!"

I'm continually amazed that people will actually buy into this sort of garbage as if it's anything useful or good.


Today in Boston...

Addendum, September 28, 2005: I've added pictures to this article and expanded the text greatly.

We had a wonderful time here today!

We got a late start, unfortunately, but it probably wasn't overly realistic to figure we'd get up at 7:00am local time and grab breakfast and get a cab into downtown, given that that would've been 4:00am body time and it was a Really Long Day yesterday getting here. So we actually slept until about 9:15. Fortunately, the hotel breakfast buffet was still going and I was able to grab food for us. It was totally uninspiring, but it stoked the fires and there was lots of protein in it and there was drinkable coffee that got our eyes open enough to head out the door.

The Hampton Inn we're staying at has an Enterprise Rent-a-car pick-up and delivery option. The Babe saw the sign for it and noticed something unusual about the pick up option (appearing in the second column of the picture below--look very closely at the first line under "Friendly and Professional Services" to see what's different). You don't normally get this kind of friendly and professional service in a three-star hotel, at least, not for free. She mentioned this to the desk clerk who blushed very red, but put the sign back down on the desk and didn't change it. It was still there a few days later when we left.

We picked up our Go Boston Cards (a package deal for goodies and tours and entrance and so on), then did a Freedom Trail walk with these nifty wireless audio packages. (A virtual walk of the Freedom Trail is available Freedom Trail.) It was very interesting and quite moving at times.

Prior to embarking on the trip, we took a side jaunt down to the other end of the Boston Commons. One of the things that choked me up was when we were walking by one graveyard at the end of the Boston Commons that had (among other people) Gilbert Stuart, the painter. There were a number of vaults there (an interesting phenomenon in themselves) and the names on most of them were eroded into illegibility. The Babe commented on this and I was very moved thinking of the saying "Men die, cattle die, and only the legends live on." That and Ozymandias, a poem that's always meant a lot to me.

There was a good deal of information at the start of the Freedom Trail about the Boston Commons itself, which was the meeting place for a lot of activities as well as the place of public punishment. The audio went on for a while about stocks and pillories and other Puritan entertainments. We walked across the Commons and up to the steps of the Massachusetts State House. Only rarely is the front door used--by the Governor and the President. Almost always, the side doors are used.

On the grounds of the Massachusetts State House is a statue of Mary Dyer, a Quaker martyr who was executed by the Puritans in 1660 for professing her beliefs. (So much for the idea that the Puritans believed in religious freedom for anyone but themselves.) Across the street from it is a monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first black regiment to be recruited in the North. (If this sounds familiar to you, it's because this was the story told in the Matthew Broderick film, Glory.)

We walked down the street and around the corner to the Granary Burying Ground. This is one of the oldest burying grounds in Boston. Like most of the burying grounds there, it was horribly overcrowded: at one point there were 11,000 infants and children buried in one section of it.

The tombstones were marked with fascinating variants of death's heads and winged skulls and so on. A lot of it looked rather primitive and the Babe pointed out that it reminded her of Mexican "El Dia de Muerte" stuff. I hadn't drawn that connection, myself, but she's right.

The Franklin Family Memorial (though not Ben Franklin himself) is here as well. I was able to get a shot of the Babe next to it, in a classic tourist photo.

You can read about the Franklin Family memorial if you click on the picture to expand it.

Samuel Adams of Revolutionary War fame is buried in the Granary Burying Ground. That there's a Samuel Adams Brewing Company is no coincidence, really: his father was a maltster. The company itself bears no particular connection to the historical figure, but someone clearly took advantage of their local history education and founded the company in honor of and to capitalize on the name of Samuel Adams. He was a great revolutionary and the beer made in his name is pretty good stuff, too.

Right next to Samuel Adams' grave marker is a grave marker for the Boston Massacre dead. Crispus Attucks, a black man who was a sailor and ropemaker, was the first man to die in the fight. It's likely that a mob was harassing the British soldiers until they fired on the crowd, killing five people.

I saw a gravestone I've known of for decades. It had the person's name and the date (I've a photo of this; I've got a zillion photos of all of this that I won't be able to upload until I get back), followed by the epitaph: "Remember, friend, as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be; prepare for death and follow me." (Morbid stuff, ain't it?)

Down the street is a very pretty building, the Tremont Temple, an old Baptist church founded in 1839 (the building in the photos dates from 1894). The pastor believes that the Tremont Temple is the first integrated church in America.

The building is done in Venetian stone and terra cotta. Be sure to expand the picture to it's max to really appreciate how they did it.

Half a block further down Tremont street is the King's Chapel.

King's Chapel, the first Anglican Church in New England, was founded in 1686 by the Royal Governor of the Province of New England. In 1785, it became the first Unitarian Church in America. (Note: We kept bumping into Unitarian churches throughout our trip. It made us feel at home.) King's Chapel was also the first church in America to use an organ. I peered inside briefly; it was very attractive in a polished wood and stone way.

Still adjoining King's Chapel is the King's Chapel Cemetery. Boston was owned and operated by Puritans at this time and they refused to sell land to the Anglicans, so the church was built on a corner of Boston's first burial ground. The audio guide for the Freedom Trail said that there were so many people buried here that there were problems with decaying coffins, bits of bones sticking up, and even the occasional undecayed piece of body. I'll bet the place reeked of decay, too; it must've been very unpleasant. As with the Granary Burying Ground, there were a number of unusual tombstones.

There are a lot of famous people buried in the King's Chapel Cemetery, including William Dawes (Paul Revere's assistant who finished the famous midnight ride), Elizabeth Pain, who Nathaniel Hawthorne used as the model for Hester Prynne in "The Scarlet Letter," Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off of the Mayflower ship, and a number of other people including John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts Bay Company. John Winthrop was largely responsible for the Puritan colonization. He felt that non-Puritans should be weeded out as the colonies should be for Christians only to carry the Gospel into the New World and to convert the gentiles therein. While by most accounts he was actually a decent man who did not seem to suffer from most of the faults of religious bigotry that the Puritans tended to suffer from, the Puritan colonization was largely his fault.

I was also able to snap a quick picture of a scenic tourist tattoo. I was sorry I couldn't see more; it looked like a goodie.

Around the corner from the King's Chapel is the site of the Boston Latin School, the first public school in America (1635), which Franklin attended. He was born a block away from here. This is also the site of the old Boston City Hall. There is a statue to Franklin here, unsurprisingly.

Across the street from this is what I'd swear is a reproduction of the Bridge of Sighs, a structure in Venice that led from the Doge's Palace to the Prison. It was so named because the sight of the harbor and sunlight was frequently the last that the prisoners being escorted were ever to see and they knew it. I haven't found anything further about it yet.

One other thing that choked me up was seeing the Old State House, notable for a lot of things but most impressive to me for being the place where the Declaration of Independence was first read to the public (from a second floor balcony). That was a powerful image for me.

We stopped about halfway through the walk, at Faneuil Hall. There was a lot more to see on the tour, but little of it interested us all that much and it was another 2 miles of walking. Moreover, we had to get back to the Visitor's Information Center we'd rented the wireless thingies from and return them by 4:00pm or they'd charge my credit card for them (ick!). We did spend a fair amount of time in the various markets at Faneuil Hall. We window-shopped and listened to a few very good street musicians.

At the marketplace, we saw a fun street performer: he was dressed as a Greek statue. If you gave him a donation, he'd give you a scroll. He'd stay motionless otherwise. It was very convincing. Good street theater adds a lot to a day out.

One of the shops along the way was a large Christmas store. The Babe loves Christmas stores (well, I do, too) and we spent a while there. Here's a picture of me with one of the shop residents.

We got back to the VIC, handed them the audio units and the young woman said I didn't need to do anything else, then we scampered over to the point where we were to pick up the Beantown Trolley (another freebie on the Go Boston Cards). We had an interesting driver who told us a lot of things about Boston and Cambridge that were fun to know. An added benefit was that we got to bloody well sit down for a couple hours.
One of the highlights of the trip was driving by Trinity Church. When we return to Boston in the future, I'd like to see the inside of it.

We also drove by a building that was designed to look like a castle for no particularly good reason. It's just fun.

We finished the tour and got off the trolley, had a surprisingly nice dinner at Bennigan's and wandered over to see Shear Madness, a very funny murder mystery play that the audience gets to take part in. It was a nice night out. We headed home to the hotel and, after looking at email and writing this on the computer, pulled our shoes off our tired feet and went to bed.

Tomorrow, we're going to get up early (no, really!) and go book a reservation on the Boston Duck Tours, a bunch of amphibious WWII landing craft that drive around the city and into the water as well to give you tours of Boston. We're also going to hit a museum, though whether it's going to be the Museum of Fine Art or the Peabody (I'm too tired to look up any more links; you do it yourself!), is still undetermined. There are also other excitements for us tomorrow such as riding on the swan boats (okay, that one I knew you wouldn't be able to find on your own).

Oh, and seeing as how it's September 11, I feel obliged to say this: every fundamentalist asshole who thinks they have a right tell the world that their imaginary friend is better than every other imaginary friend should go to the hell of their own choosing and stop trying to take us with them. The departure of fundamentalists from this planet would really make this a paradise. This applies to fundamentalists of EVERY religion. I'm disgusted by fundamentalist Muslims but fundamentalist Christians are even more obnoxious. If they want to kill each other in the name of their gods, I'm all for it--just do it quietly, don't leave craters, radiation, or toxic molds, and fucking leave the rest of us alone to enjoy their absence.


On the Road!

Okay, we're on the road at last. We're in Boston on an anniversary vacation and I'll try to make postings to the blog here as circumstances allow.

What's been happening in all that silent time for the last month or so:

Life's been very, very crunchy. There were vast quantities of work to do--nice to have the work and all, but it was busy (which is why they call it "work")--and there were just a few leetle hassles with life going on as well, much of it related to the house.

As I mentioned only a few posts ago, the contractor that we were dealing with for the new house was not the most cooperative guy in the world. We came to an agreement that we were going to go away, he gave us our money back, and we left. I'm still annoyed with him: when you say you're going to do a "custom home" and we're paying you vast quantities of money, it really ought to be a custom home done like we want it to be done and not like the builder wants it done. Oh, well. We subsequently heard a few things about him that supported the opinion that we'd come to about his operating style. It'll all work out, I'm quite sure.

Well, since then, we've been looking for a new house. We found a great place to have built in a new development by a different builder (who's got a great rep for being organized and efficient) and we were very impressed. When we saw the model home, the Babe said "If I'd seen this before the other house, I'd have never signed up for it." I agree--it's much more spacious, really attractive, and a lot closer to the house we wanted. We expressed strong interest in getting one of these done to the developer (who seems to be a nice guy). He said that there was the chance to have this one done in the development because one couple was swapping out from their lot to buy a corner lot across the street and up that was going to have the same house built on it because that couple was buying still another lot elsewhere in the development. Far out! So, meanwhile, we were looking at other houses just because it was going to be a year from now before we could move in and being in the house we're in now could be seriously frustrating.

We found a very nice house elsewhere. It's quite big enough, very spacious, incredibly pretty, with truly dazzling landscaping. It even has a lovely San-Francisco-ish pink stucco exterior. The master shower is an entire room unto itself done up in mottled tan marble. It's big enough to sleep four. The master closet is bigger than M's first studio apartment. We want it. We want it bad.

Unfortunately, it's out of our price range as it turns out. Oh, we got instant approval for the mortgage amount (which surprised the heck out of us, but there you are), but the actual payments are too much when weighted against other things, like our desire to travel, or to cover the kids' college educations, or to buy a new fuel pump for the Babe's car, which we had to do a couple weeks ago. If we bought it, we'd have a truly wonderful upscale house that would be a joy to live in, but we'd have no surplus cash to deal with the surprises of life... and with three kids and five cats, there can be a lot of surprises. It was kinda like, "well, can we come up with another $75,000 in hand?" The answer was a resounding "no, we can't." Bugger.

We hadn't completely given up on this, but we'd always figured that we'd be buying in to reserve a house with the new developer (keeping a second string for our bow). I phoned on Thursday to make the appointment for Friday (the 9th). Interesting things: the people who'd vacated the lot we were going to be buying were leaving the area and so we now had a choice of two lots with the house we liked on it, one of which was a corner lot. Not bad. And, oh, by the way, the house that they'd been going to buy on the corner lot (which was now open to us) had a fixed price of $40K lower than the price of the new house. Were we interested? Ohhhhhhh, yeahhhhhhh....

We went in on Friday to sign up. The long and short of it was even better: we could get the house we were planning on or we could get a whole new house plan that they'd just gotten back. We looked at it--actually, the Babe expressed strong interest; I was in love with the way the house looked and didn't want to have anything cause ripples.

We looked at the new house plan. Closely. And you know... it's a heckuva lot better. It's only ("only") 2531 square feet (versus 3300) but it got smaller by eliminating all the stuff that were weren't going to be using anyway: the formal dining room, the sitting room, some of the great room that was kinda oversized. Everything that we wanted--big master bedroom on the main floor, nice office area for me, sewing room--was still there.

So the upshot of all of this is that we bought the new house plan on the non-corner lot we'd been looking at, but for another $20K less than we'd gone in planning to spend. We'll be moving in August or September of next year, which'll give us time to get our current house fixed up to sell and everything boxed. And with housing prices rising the way they are, it's likely to be a close-to-straight-across deal for the sale.

The gods are smiling on us.

The shuttle's going to leave so I'm going to sign off and head out for a day of sightseeing. TTYS!