The Lilly Family’s Hidden History on Cape Cod

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Most of the time I find myself musing on the differences between my Hoosier homeland and where I live now. But sometimes I find a connection that’s so concrete it drives me to want to know more about the circumstances surrounding it. That happened to me a few weeks ago when Peter and I visited the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich.

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The Montague Bookmill, Montague, MA

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If I had an official list of my favorite bookstores in the world (hm, maybe I should have one), The Montague Bookmill would be on it. During last winter’s snowstorms there was a lot made of the Swedish word “hygge,” and while I still can’t point to a precise definition of this word, I know that the Bookmill has it.

I saw myself spending the whole day there, curled up in the stacks with a cup of hot coffee from the attached cafe, The Lady Killigrew, or perched on the sofa near one of the many bay windows, watching the Saw Mill River roar below. So that’s exactly what I did. All day.

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From Farm to Table: Cranberries

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“From Farm to Table” is a series of posts showcasing the small-scale farming culture of New England. Despite what people assume, there’s a lot of it going on around here. Midwesterners can barely conceptualize a farm that doesn’t stretch on and on, with stubby, leafy rows of soy beans blending into tall rows of yellow-topped cornstalks, and long, flat rows of pig barns, white-painted farmhouses and an occasional mammoth grain silo as the only man-made structures you might see for miles. Farming is very different around here, but just as culturally vital.

Last month, Peter and I visited a cranberry bog in Chatham, on Cape Cod. As any casual reader of this blog knows, Peter and I are frequent visitors to Cape Cod — even more so now that we live in Massachusetts. The Cape is great in so many ways, but especially for the deep sense of rural tranquility it can quickly impart (in the off-season) to someone who lives a mere hour away in the suburbs of Boston. And if you’re not from Massachusetts, you can be forgiven for not realizing that — like in most rural areas — there are lots of farms on Cape Cod: cranberry farms.

Growing up in Indiana you really only associate commercial farming with corn and soybeans. Most people, in general, I think, associate commercial farming with these sorts of mega crops. And for good reason. During our tour, our tour guide (also the bog’s owner) told us it’s mostly these large farms that lobby for and benefit from government policies, including subsidies, buybacks, etc. Cape cranberries don’t receive a lot of government support, even though the industry has been struggling.

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Goodbye New England Fall, Hello New England Winter

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I always really miss fall when it’s over. Fall is my favorite season, which is strange when you consider the fact that the most important day of the year — my birthday — is in the summer and my favorite holiday is Christmas (weird for an atheist, I know). Fall in the Northeast, as I’ve mentioned before, is especially grand.

So what is it about fall that’s so special? Some images and anecdotes that demonstrate:

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Torrington and the Litchfield Hills

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Fall is the best time go for a drive and a hike in almost any part of the country, but this is especially true for Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills region. The Litchfield Hills are technically the southern tip of the Berkshires, which are in turn technically the southern half of the Green Mountains that start in Vermont. Western New England and Eastern New York are where most of the mountain ranges of the Northeast Appalachians converge, and the effect is beautiful.

New England is also 80 percent forest — the most heavily-forested region of the country — a fact that can be counted as one of the great environmental victories of the 20th century. Early settlers’ logging and farming had cut that percentage down to 30-40 percent in the mid-1800s.

So what’s there to do in the Litchfield Hills besides “leaf-peep”?

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President’s Day at the JFK Presidential Library & Museum

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For President’s Day my friend Peter and I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Boston, where most of our time was spent at the Kennedy Presidential Library.

Sure, for President’s Day our countryfolk explicitly celebrate the birthdays of George Washington (February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12). But President’s Day is also a time to pick the guy who’s most important to your state or region and celebrate him too. (Did everyone in Indiana have fun commemorating the single-term presidency of Benjamin Harrison? Yeah, you probably just celebrated Lincoln instead.)

Surprisingly, New England has only given us five presidents – unsurprisingly, four of them are from Massachusetts: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Franklin Pierce (New Hampshire), Calvin Coolidge and Kennedy. While the Adamses get their fair share of recognition from the Bay State, the Kennedy legacy is a minor religion in all three of New England’s southernmost states.

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Day Trips: A Snow Day in the West End

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Lately it’s taken almost all my energy to leave the house for anything – it’s cold, dark and our last big snowfall packed my car in so deep digging out was a 2-day process. Yay New England winter (I’m sorry I doubted you for so long … there’s no need to further demonstrate your might).

However, I have managed to have a couple of adventures over the last week.

The walkway leading to the porch, flanked by two snowy pine trees.

The walkway leading to the porch, flanked by two snowy pine trees.

Last Thursday – as my car sat buried and useless – I took to the sidewalks to investigate a very notable cultural landmark that is only four blocks away from my apartment building, in Hartford’s West End.

From 1874 to 1891 Samuel Clemens – better known to us as Mark Twain – and his family lived in a house on Farmington Avenue. Clemens moved from his home state of Missouri to the East Coast when he was 18 (a fellow Midwest transplant!), then spent most of his time traveling until settling in Hartford with his family in 1871. Most of his famous works were written while he lived in this house.

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Day Trips: Eight hours in New York City

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When I moved to Connecticut I didn’t expect that my first weekend excursion would take me outside the state, especially to New York City. It seemed too cliché; after all, I was really excited to uncover whatever colloquial idiosyncrasies my adopted state had to offer.

Julie looking fly, as usual.

Julie looking fly, as usual.

However, a long hard week at work drove me to seek the company of old friends, and to do that I had to go to go all the way to the New York, where my friend Julie and her partner Andrew moved this summer after we had all graduated with our master’s degrees.

It had been 20 years since I’d last seen the city, so in the interest of checking off some basic bucket list items the day was planned to max out the main tourist sites as painlessly and cheaply as possible. Julie, who is originally from the NYC area, was the perfect tour guide for this. The biggest, most tourist-y site we didn’t do was the Statue of Liberty, since the former 6-year-old me remembers very well the 177 steps she walked halfway to the top, and then being carried (crying) the rest of the way.


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