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Visiting the Van Vleck House and Gardens

3 May

Another delightful site to visit in Montclair is the Van Vleck House and Gardens.  Once a private estate, the house and its gardens were donated to The Montclair Foundation in 1993 by the heirs of Howard Van Vleck, who owned this Italianate villa.  The house was built in 1916.  While other homes once were on the estate as well, this is the only house that still remains.

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The original main entrance to the house on Van Vleck Street.

The gardens are open to the public for free every day!  No holiday closures!  The lovely house is used as a center for nonprofit groups for meetings, events, and fundraisers.  I actually saw people having a yoga class in one of the rooms! What a spectacular yoga studio!  The windows overlook the gardens!

The house and gardens were a short walk from the Montclair Art Museum, just along Upper Mountain Avenue.  Our visit came after several days of rain, so all the grass was lush.  But the blooming season, except for the daffodils was not yet in progress.  I think by the end of May these gardens will be stunning.  When we saw them, everything was greening up, but not much was flowering.

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The formal garden in the back of the house.

There are several walkways and levels of gardens.  The formal gardens behind the main house are lovely. Staff members were setting up for an event when we were there, so we tried to stay out of the way. Although not much was blooming yet, it was a great place to get a good walk in a lovely setting.

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One of my favorite spots.

The Upper Lawn had several stations to check out.  You can download the Van Vleck house’ app and learn about the different areas using codes on the signs.  I liked an area on the upper lawn that had many daffodils and a bird house.  When you walk across the upper lawn, you come to the Mother’s Garden and then to a percola that was renovated.

At first, I was not sure if you were allowed to walk on the lawn, as there were no paths. But seeing the information signs across the way gave me some confidence that this was acceptable.  Also the Garden Etiquette flyer we picked up at the Visitor Center, says, “Walk only on the pathways and grassy areas.”  So we did!

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The Visitor Center with an Ap sign.

The children’s butterfly garden should be lovely as well. It is located behind the Visitor Center. (Where there are good restrooms.  Always important when walking.)  I also liked the colorful signs with details about insects and disease impacting trees and what to look for that lined the path from the butterfly garden to the front of the Visitor Center.  I was glad to see on the website that there are many children and family activities planned throughout the spring and summer.

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The pavilion by the Tennis Garden.

We did not go on the Rhododendron Walk.  It was somewhat muddy and damp, and I was not in the right shoes for that.  However, I did enjoy the Tennis Court Garden, planted where the estate’s tennis court once stood.  To the side is little pavilion.  I could, in my mind, see people resting there between sets of tennis, or watching those playing while enjoying the shade.

I hope to go back to Montclair and visit the Van Vleck gardens when everything is in bloom!

 

To learn more about the gardens and home, go to: www.vanvleck.org

 

A Little Gem, the Montclair Art Museum

1 May

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I just spent five days in Montclair, New Jersey, visiting my sister who recently moved there.  When we drove to her apartment, we passed the Montclair Art Museum.  Outside many of its trees were covered with crochet and fiber art works, my attention was immediately captivated.

She knew what I was thinking.

“Yes, we are going.  I knew you would want to go.” And I did.  I crochet; I knit; I sew; I have embroidered; I do candlewick embroidery; I needlepoint.  In simple terms, I love fiber arts.  And this display was calling my name.  I wanted to take photos of the trees from her moving car.  But she told me to calm down.  We could actually easily walk over to the museum

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On exhibit at the museum is the 2019 new Jersey Arts Annual – Crafts, “New Directions In Fiber Arts.”  It will be at the museum until June 16, 2019.

There was felt art, and crochet art, and quilt art.  Each of the 32 artists have their own specialty.  Each is special.  But I must admit, I have my favorites.

One artist, Jeanne Brasile, does water color and embroidery over braille newspapers.  I loved the geometric shapes and the colors of her work. They are delightful. Another, Robert Forman, makes yarn paintings.  I liked how the yarn formed another painting over the existing work.  You sort of see two different works of art at one time.  Geri Hahn sees art in musical sounds.  Her work on fabric looked like butterflies dancing to me. So Yoon Lym’s lovely felt painting looked like a water color.  I also enjoyed the story quilt by Faith Ringgold.

But every artist’s work had something to intrigue.  I enjoyed that each one wrote a statement about their work.  I, of course, read every one.  But I also purchased the booklet that went along with the exhibit to help me remember.  Actually, I should be honest, my sister purchased it for me, as she is a member.  Thanks!

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I also liked that scattered among the art works were little signs called Family Threads for family activities and questions.  This made the the exhibit much more interactive and family/child friendly.

The fiber exhibit was not the only gallery that I enjoyed.  Currently, the “Undaunted Spirit: Art of Native North America” is also on display until mid-July.  Part of the display, the baskets, I believe, are always on display.  The gallery that housed this exhibit, The Rand Gallery, is named for Annie Valentine Rand, and some of the many Indian art baskets and art works that were collected by her and her daughter, Florence Rand Lang, are on display there.

In March, my husband and I  spent a week on the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations in Arizona, so I was fascinated by the many baskets which reminded me of what I saw in Arizona.  But seeing the art work of the Plains Indians also called out to me as I live in Kansas and enjoy seeing Indian Art locally as well.

My sister and I loved walking through the room filled with George Inness paintings. Many showed scenes from Montclair in the late 1890s.   My favorite was the Niagara Falls and Winter Moonlight.

Outside of the walled museum, there are art sculptures on display.  But for me the fun was walking to each tree and seeing the fiber art that encompassed the trunks and some of the branches of the trees.  I love seeing yarn bombing examples.  I felt a bit badly as it rained several of the days we were there which was dampening to the art and to the spirit.  Luckily, a break in the rain helped our visit to the outside grounds more enjoyable.

The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and open from 12 – 5 pm on the other days. To find out more about the museum and its programs and events go to  www.monthclairartmuseum.org

 

 

Adventures in Mathematics at the National Mathematics Museum

29 Apr

After a losing hope about the state of mathematics in the world, I was delighted to learn about and visit the National Mathematics Museum (MoMath)in New York City. Located at 11 East 26 Street, it opened to the community in December 2015. It is worth the trip!

From the Pi symbol door handles to the hologram engraved art work, each inch of this museum is filled with interesting sites and many interactive activities! I loved riding a bicycle with square wheels. It was a little hard on the rear! But fun.

We three adults were having as much fun as the children. There are two floors of activities that parents and children can work on together. Some are math and logic problems to solve. Others are just fun activities like watching your arms branch out into fractals in a living tree exhibit.

I wish I can tell you my favorite activity, but I cannot since so much of it was great fun.

There is also a room where temporary exhibits are housed. When we were there it was unbelievable math art that has to be made through 3-D printers. And fantastic origami art.

The gift shop is packed with educational games and activities to buy. More important this museum is open every day except for Thanksgiving! Need something to do with your children school age and older, go here! There are events and activities listed on its website which I put below.

It is an easy walk to Madison Garden Park where you can sit for a bit and people watch, take great photos of the flatiron building and buy lunch or a snack.

Being there gave me hope. There are parents and children and grandparents interested math and learning. I did not see one frown while there, I just saw adults and children intrigued by what they were seeing and learning while having an adventure at the MoMath!

Www.momath.org

Technology Equals No Division

27 Apr

I had the most pleasant dinner with my husband and siblings in a restaurant in Montclair, NJ. The food, fish for all of us and ice cream and sorbet for dessert was delightful. We chatted and ate and visited and finally were ready to leave.

I have to admit that perhaps we asked for too much. We wanted to divide the check so that my husband and I paid half and my siblings each paid a quarter of the bill. The waitress said it was fine. And so we gave her three credit cards and waited. And waited. And waited. I should have known something was not working out.

Our bill for four people was $129.02. She came back with my credit card and a receipt for $86. She then was going to divide the $43.02 between my siblings. I was astounded that she did not even realize that this was not divided in HALF. It was two-thirds and a third, but definitely not half. $86 and $43 are NOT equal!

I went up with my receipts to speak to her while she was running the other cards. I politely said, “Wait. This is not right. $86 Is not half of $129.02.”

She was not convinced. “Are you sure? I have to get my manager,” she told me as she hustled away with a dazed look on her face.

A few minutes later the manager came. “How cam I help? ” He was pleasant.

“This is wrong. $86 is not half of $129.02. ” I told him. I was sure he would understand. But no such luck. “You asked for half on one card and the rest divided between those two!” He told me.

“Yes half. $86 is not half of $129.02. Half of $130 is $65. This is wrong.” I started doing the math, the division on a piece of paper. I showed him the math. But that was not what he needed. I offered to show him on my phone calculator. But no. He had a calculator that he pulled out.

He typed in 1292. No I said. You need a decimal. It is 129.02. He might have been anxious at this point. I noticed my siblings laughing and looking at me. I was getting exasperated. And I now was in teacher mode. I had taught at a high school. There is a definite teacher voice and look that can come over me.

In any case he correctly typed in 129.02 and divided by 2. 64.51 was the number it read. “You are right,” he admitted. “I am sorry. I will fix it. ”

I wanted to make it easy. I wanted him to credit my sister’s account and just put the rest on my card, the other $43.02. We would sort it out later. But that was too much as well. He ended up crediting my account and my sister’s. He ran a new receipt putting all the money on mine. I paid , added tip and we settled up.

My siblings laughed all the way to the car. They knew I was frustrated, they told me that the look of our mother came over me as I tried to explain the math to the manager. Mom taught fourth grade for 30 years.

“I just can’t understand how the waitress and the manager did not see that $86 was not half. $43 and $86 are not equal. Did they not understand half, divide by two,” I was still frustrated.

I was concerned that they did not believe my division that I did on paper. They would only believe a calculator. I felt like I was in a science fiction novel that I had read years ago where a boy who could do math in his head was considered a genius because everyone else HAD to use a calculator!

I am worried Technology is destroying the ability to calculate math in our brains.

Counting the Hogans Leads Us to Learning More About The Navajo People

28 Mar

As part of our Road Scholar trip we were often on the road in a bus going from one place to another.   I need activity.  I remember when my children were young finding something to count along the way: water towers, yellow cars, different license plates, helped.   Soon I found myself counting the hogans.  Joining me was my partner in anxious inactivity, we traveled with another couple, and the husband and I share this trait.  We sat by the windows and started counting.  I must say that I was better at discerning the shape of hogans better than he.

What is a hogan and why count them, you might ask?  I am glad to explain.

A hogan is a Navajo hut/home.  Originally there were two types.  The simple, smaller, tipi style Hogan was called a male hogan. They are made of wood covered in mud. These were usually used and lived in by single men.  But anyone could live in them.  It is not gender assigned in that sense.

A beautiful stone Hogan on the grounds of the Hubbell Trading Post.

The other, female hogan is much larger.  It is often multi-sided ranging from 6 to 9 sides, with differing explanations why. But one guide told us a nine-sided hogan is to represent the nine months of pregnancy.   Both males and females can live in a hogan.

The opening of a hogan always faces east to welcome the morning sun.

Although many Navajo families still have a hogan on their property for ceremonial reasons, most no longer live in hogans.  However, that is not an absolute.  They are inhabited as well.  They can also look different now.  No longer are they just mud-covered beams of tree trunks and branches, they can be made of brick, stone, wood, shingles and siding.   We saw it all.  Some have had additions put on to make them bigger.  Others stand alone and silent, somewhat decaying.  Others have had windows installed — no longer with just an opening in the east and on the ceiling to let the smoke from the stove or fire vent.

We saw our first hogan in the Heard Museum in Phoenix.  The guide explained to use how they were built and why they were used.  Being that it was inside and enclosed in the museum, it did not face the elements ,and you really could not tell that it was facing east.  But it was interesting to see.

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Hogan at Canyon De Chelly

The second hogan we entered was at the entrance to the Canyon De Chelly National Monument on the grounds of the Welcome Center. This hogan was outside.  Our guide told us stories about his family and what his grandmother told him about the meaning in parts of the hogan.  Much we had heard from our guide at the museum, but his tellings were more authentic.  Our Road Scholar guide explained later that different families have slightly different opinions. And she did correct one bit of information he gave us.  Thank you Azalia!

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Agathla Peak or El Capitan 

Our third entrance to a hogan was at a rest stop near El Capitan.  First the beauty of the surrounding area as we drew closer to Monument Canyon was stunning.  Seeing El Capitan, or Agathla Peak, an ancient volcanic plug in the horizon was amazing.  We eventually got much closer to it.  So at first I did not notice the hogans, but there they were with some information about them.

The rest stop featured two hogans, both the male and the female.  Thus for the first time we could enter the smaller one and see how it was made. I loved seeing how the interlocking forked branches and tree trunks formed the top of the male hogan.  To be honest, it was quite small, and I can see why it has gone out of use.  Unless you are camping or living off by yourself, there is not much room but to sleep and take shelter, so it is not a great living situation.

The female hogan is much better for families or daily living. The way the logs were formed for these is much more intricate, with layers of logs forming a design in the ceiling.  Some female hogans have the side logs layered horizontally. Other are formed by longs standing upright, vertically around the exterior.

So why count hogans? Well as we drove through the Navajo reservation, we had plenty of time on the bus.  And although much of the scenery was breathtaking, there were also many areas where we drove through empty dessert, except every so often we would see a group of homes where a family had its compound.  And there, among the more modern homes was often an original or remodeled hogan.   So we did what any child would do on a long trip, we found something to count and to discuss.  We counted 15 hogans.  They were a variety of colors, symmetry, materials, and shapes as we saw several connected to other additions.

Counting hogans led us to discuss what we were seeing.  How do people live out here in the middle of nowhere?  We found that solar panels have helped with electricity.   That water has to be brought in.   That addresses are basically non-existent.  Residents of these isolated compounds tell visitors to go to a certain highway marker and turn either left or right and follow a dirt road to get to their homes.

I am glad we started counting hogans because this led us to learn more about the Navajo people and their life on the reservation.

 

 

Navajo Tacos, Fry Bread, Challah and the Shehechiyanu

26 Mar

Part of the learning that we experienced on our trip to the Hopi and Navajo reservations was eating some of the typical foods, focusing on fry bread, corn mush and hominy, Navajo Tacos and a beef/lamb stew.

I realized that the only bread I was going to find on the reservations was fry bread.  Made of just a few ingredients, the important part of fry bread is that it is fried, traditionally in lard, but when we had it, fried in either olive oil or Crisco.  We were fortunate in that we experienced food prepared by family members of our guides.

The first meal was prepared by our native Hopi guide’s (Raymond) wife.  She made corn hominy, which took hours to prepare, fry bread, and a pepper, as well as a bean and beef mixture that you eat on the fry bread.  After the meal his wife explained how she cooked it, about the four colors/types of corn: blue, red, yellow and white.  It was important that we understand that anyone who shows up at their home is always welcome to join the meal.

Our second home cook meal was made by Azalia’s, (our Navajo guide) mother and aunt.  This included Navajo tacos, which is fry bread, beans and meat mixture, lettuce and tomatoes.  They also had a soup/stew and blue corn mush (sort of looks like cream of wheat).

The best part about this meal, is that they showed us how to make fry bread and several people attempted to make it.  While some tried to make it, I took photos.  I learned that fry bread is made sort of like a little pizza.  The dough is thrown and formed.   Then instead of baking, it is fried.  Before you put the circle of dough in the pan, you have to wait for the oil/Crisco to be steaming.  As the fry bread cooks, it bubbles up.  Then as it turns a bit golden brown, it is ready to come out.  At this point I found the way I like to eat fry bread, dip it in honey. Or pour honey over the bread.  Delicious.  It sort of reminded me of a Louisiana, New Orleans beignet.

I have to admit, we had a small Jewish moment over fry bread.  One of my newly made friends was so excited about her completion of the fry bread, that I told her we needed to make a blessing.  Since she is also Jewish, I thought a Shehechiyanu, the blessing over doing something for the first time would be appropriate. Five of us stood together and blessed her accomplishment.  It made sense, as the Navajo and Hopi are very spiritual people.

The other exciting part is that our guide’s mother gave some of us some blue corn kernels to take home and plant!  I am hoping it will grow in Kansas.

It interesting to see was how she fit so many people into their home.  This is a common occurrence in their culture, where everyone is invited to special events, and like the Hopi, anyone who shows up is feed!.  They took boards and covered them with white paper, and put on stools.  We used that as a small table.  It worked great!

I enjoyed the educational component of the Road Scholar journey.  Often, I am telling others about my cultural foods, especially the ones that we make during Passover like charosets.  Having meals made by experienced members of the Hopi and Navajo tribes was so special to me, that they took the time to give us this experience.  It was a joy to be a part of this group.

However, I will admit, that by the time I got home, I was happy to have a piece of my culture’s favorite carbohydrate, a slice of challah.

When A Trading Post Becomes A National Park or A Grand Canyon Hotel!

23 Mar

Part of our tour of the Navajo and Hopi reservations were visits to different trading posts and shops along the way.   But nothing prepared me for the wonderful Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Ganado, Arizona.

First you need to know that I love historic homes.  Show me a home museum, and you have shown me the spark of joy!   The Hubbell Trading Post combines the history of trading between the outside world and the Navajo as well as a historic home.

The trading post itself was an important commerce arena for the Navajo.  John Lorenzo Hubbell, his wife, Lina Rubi, and their children were friends to the Navajo people.  Although they made money off of them through the trade of their native art works for goods sold at the trading post, they cared about the people.  This shows in the fact that the Hubbell Trading Post was under the business eye of the Hubbell family from the 1880s until well past Hubbell’s death in 1930.  In fact a member of the Hubbell family ran the trading post until  1967, when his daughter-in-law Dorothy Hubbell sold the post to the National Park Service.

The Trading Post still works as a trading post today along with the US post office at the post.  Today it is managed by the Western National Parks Association, with the profits going to programs of the National Park Service.

But seeing and shopping at the Trading Post is not the only highlight of this visit.  We also had the opportunity to see the Hubbell home, which sits behind the trading post.  The big central room has three doors on each side leading to the bedrooms used by John and Lina and their children.   We did not see the kitchen, which was a separate area.  But we were happy to see the house.  It was a snowy cold day and they allowed us in, with the caveat that we had to take off our shoes!!!  BRRRR.

The original woven rugs are no longer on the floors, but the recreations are also stunning.  The walls filled with painting and art work, the ceilings covered with woven baskets, the giant wooden beams, the high ceilings, the unusual lighting, all create an atmosphere that gave me joy.

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The Visitors’ Center a few steps away from the Trading Post was also a great stop.   Inside you can pick up brochures, learn about the history of the trading post. The display about weaving was wonderful.  The best part was the opportunity to watch a woman weave in the traditional manner.  Well worth the visit!

Seeing the Hubbell Trading Post would have been enough for my trading post desires, but we had an additional bonus. The last night of our trip was spent at the hotel at the Cameron Trading Post. Just over 100 years old, (founded in 1916) it is just one mile from the Grand Canyon and just steps away from the Little Colorado River.

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The enormous store or trading post is filled with items from the Navajo and Hopi.  It was a feast for the eyes, but not for the wallet!!!  We went through the shop many times on our way to the restaurant, and just for entertainment.     The dining hall was a work of art itself with its tin ceiling, wonderful rock fireplace, rug hangings and antique windows.

We enjoyed the night in our spacious hotel room where we could easily go out and see the bridge that spanned the river.

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I was glad that we were able to learn the history of trading posts that were positive for the Navajo and Hopi peoples.  It was exciting to spend time at them and to learn about the importance in the past and their continued importance now.