Monday, May 31, 2010


Yesterday, the weather was beautiful, Eric The Man had two ball games in a tournament, so everyone gathered at Groton Park for a bit of rest, fun and food between games. Joceylyn Jaillet used the time to burrow into a book. She kind of reminds me of myself at age 15.

And, on the subject of books, how do you peruse 350,000 books? Niantic, Connecticut has a famous book store, that has turned into three stores.
The main barn is not the whole story. Building after building has been added around the spacious garden grounds filled with every imaginable book.  Friendly benches, a children's play area, several friendly cats, tables, coffee, cookies, flowers, settees invite you to linger and relax. Things are wonderfully organized in cozies, new items, old items; political or photography; children's or teen's. you might find one copy filed in fiction and the same book filed in poetry if it has both.

I found a copy of my newest favorite book, Bel Canto, so now I can return the one loaned to me by a friend. That, and a bagful of others. If your bag gets heavy, staff provides a cubby to hold your books while you continue your search. Jim needed help to lug his big box of books out to the Bronco. Oh, such hidden pleasure in those pages

Helpful, plentiful staff, and if you get tired of looking, you can always rest your eyes and throw a few balls into the basketball hoop in one of the courtyards, or stop for a game of chess or checkers.

Folks here have a great sense of humor. Every sign has at least one funny line. This place is such a treasure. The hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Open every day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


William Gillette may have something over Eric Jaillet, but not in this family. We attended Eric's baseball game early Saturday morning. He plays catcher, and third base. First up, first pitch of the game, he hit a single and ran it home.
Eric is 12 years old and plays for a team that ramps that ball around like a fast pitching pro team. Its not the Little League my kids grew up with. I was on the edge of my seat watching these kids field, pick up that ball,  and blast it to the base; no missed catches; everyone on point; disciplined to their position; never missed a cue. Just like the pros. WOW!
Eric went on to make a double play and a home run. The opposing team had a better pitcher, but his team, The Gamers, won by a strong lead.

Here the team pummels and praises a fellow player after a home run. These are 12, 13 and 14 year olds. I felt like I was watching the pro players of tomorrow enroute.

Eric playing catcher while the opposing team is up. The pitchers, on both teams, cover the catcher when he chases a foul ball. The pitcher and catcher watch those batters trying to steal a base. Batters watch for a hole in the field; Eric says if the fielders step back, he tries for a line drive. If they come forward he hits to the outfield. These kids know where to hit that ball to bring runners home. Fantastic discipline and dedication for young people who love this game.

In this advanced league, you hear no complaints about the umpire's calls, from kids, coaches or parents. Everyone is civil and professional. They have base coaches on the field. Sportsmanship and civility are practiced here. The teams high five each other as they leave the field at the end of the game. They've learned the important art of winning and losing gracefully.

 Yes, there is proud dad and grandpa at the end of the game. But, Eric, is THE MAN.

 After the game, Jim and I visited the nearby Gillette Castle State Park.
 Gillette and Jaillet are pronounced the same way. William Gillette was an actor/playwright who perfected and personified the role of Sherlock Holmes. He wrote the plays and gave personality to Watson, making memorable the  phrase, "Elementary my dear Watson." It was his hawk like profile that is the rememberable and thereafter copied vision of Holmes, along with his choice of the hat and pipe. He wrote a novel, invented many stage tricks, props and lighting techniques. And, he made a lot of money.

 He was born in Hartford, CT. but decided to retire to this beautiful area in the Seven Sisters mountain range next to the Connecticut River at East Haddam, CT. He designed and had built a medieval looking stone castle in 1919-1924. It took twenty five craftsmen five years to complete the structure.
As fascinating as the rough hewn rock castle is, the inside is innovative and quirky as well. Gillette invented a sliding table on runners; mirrors strategically located can check on his guests in various places in the house; secret stairs allowed him to make a surprise entrance where he was least expected; The guy was obviously a bit eccentric, but practical too. He had a system of piped water all through the house and a ceiling sprinkler system that could be set in motion at the pull of a handle in the event of fire.
  The 24 room castle had 47 carved wooden doors, no two alike. Even the electric light switches were carved wood. He designed a carved wooden apparatus to turn out the light over his bed.

It was difficult to believe the apparatus above is light switches. The castle has beautiful grounds, a huge, free picnic area near a small lake, hiking trails and remnants of his fascination with trains, a station, some of the original 3 miles of track and a couple of engines in the visitors center. The castle tour has a charge. It has sisal wall paper, carved wainscoting, stained glass pieces, giant fireplaces, an indoor waterfall, and his original beds, china and books. For anyone interested in wood carving or stone work, this is a must see.

After the castle visit, Jim and I took the ferry to Chester, drove to Essex, had lunch and visited the Connecticut River Museum. More on that tomorrow.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Ivoryton is a small community that feeds into several nearby small towns. The Jaillet children attend Essex Elementary School which has about 500 students, Kindergarten through 6th grade.  Unknown to us, and to her parents until yesterday, 9 year old Jaime, a fourth grader, won first place in a poetry contest sponsored by VFW Post 6726 of Centerbrook. Not even the teachers knew who won the contest until the Commander of the post announced them at this Flag Raising Ceremony.

Jaime and the 2nd and 3rd place winners each read their poems that describe what they perceive about Memorial Day, and why it is important to celebrate our vets and remember their contribution to us all. Jaime displayed great confidence and an excellent speaking voice. Her parents, and Pepe' Jaillet were noticeably proud and moved.

Father Jim shares a tender moment after the ceremony.

Happy Mom, Wendy, too.

And, Pepe' Jaillet.

When our children are grown, we forget how talented young children are. The program was announced by Graham Rider. The band played "You're A Grand Old Flag",  the Pledge Of Allegiance was led by student Mitchell Conrad,  the Star Spangled Banner was sung by Mrs. Deborah O'Donnell. Then the guest speaker, Cadet Mary Watson, one of many veterans participating in the day's activities, explained the importance of honoring vets to a mixed age audience. No small feat. The winning students shared refreshments with the Vets and got tips from them on what it means to serve in the armed forces.  For more pictures, click on the album below:

Later in the day, we attended Jaime's softball game.

 Jaime is a member of the Twins, and here, at bat, she swung and missed in this shot. She later scored the first run for her team, which eventually lost to the Angels.  Girls and boys softball is huge in this area. Jaime loves the game and the girls look like mini-pros as they pitch, catch and command their positions. The rules are friendlier, only 6 innings. The girls can only make five runs in an inning, then they trade positions. Mom, Wendy appreciates that winning isn't the most important aspect of a ball game for kids. Sportsmanship, teamwork and fun are promoted with learning how to win and lose gracefully. Good healthy stuff for kids.

Friday, May 28, 2010


We crossed the Connecticut River into a series of historic small towns to reach Ivoryton,  home of my partner's family. The town name came from the major industry in the area,  a factory that imported and made ivory piano keys. Alas, plastic took over, but the crumbling  factory is still standing.

 I may not have explained that my partner, Jim Jaillet, has lived full time in his RV for 15 years and seeing his son's name on a mailbox,  gave him an emotional tug.

 A quick hug with son Jim before he went off to coach little league.
 Crowding two grand daughters, Jaimie and Joceylyn, and mom, Wendy into the motor home after school  proved to be a lot of fun.  Nine year old Jaimie tried on gobs of  beads we brought with us from Mardi Gras last February. Joceylyn, at age 15, likes poetry and math. A rare young person who KNOWS that she wants to be a teacher some day.

 Jim has met my family and its nice to finally meet his family. We'll have time to get to know each other over the next week. Its already evident we'll be having a good time. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Diane Comollo is another cousin of my partner, Jim Jaillet. This East Coast trip is all about family reunion and everything that interests us on the way. We're all of French Canadian descent and it was fun to watch Diane talk "with her hands" as my family was wont to do. We got teased about it as kids.
We sat and visited all day in her cool kitchen as the local temperature rose to 99*, a record for this time of year around Hebron, Connecticut.

 Its important to have the family photo to record the time and changes between visits. Diane has a terrific memory and recounted many childhood encounters, family moves and stories that trigger the fun of times past. Bob barbecued steaks for dinner, (chicken for us) making sure we wouldn't be left unfed. The French like the Italians exhort you to eat, eat, you must eat. Diane buys everything she can organically grown so we found we had much in common.
 A strong thunderstorm during the night left everything sweet and clean. Bob walks the fur children every day. Rescue dogs, he named Oliver after Oliver Twist because this dog had a rough start, hungry, begging, neglected. While Montgomery wants to be alpha dog, and acts like a little general. So, Montgomery it was. I got a kick out of his naming process. Pets add so much joy to their lives.

 On the walk we saw this lunch box hanging in a tree. I've seen shoes, jar lids, birdhouses, sculptures, cans, just about anything you can think of hanging in trees. This was a my first lunch box. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Yesterday was a travel day, driving the back roads of New York State and Connecticut as we press East. On the way we passed one of the power plants that kept partner Jim here for many years.

Haze or smog covered, we are unsure. It sits on the Eastern shore of the Hudson River near Peekskill, N.Y. The road brought us within touring distance of  West Point, but the internet informed us West Point doesn't open for tours this early in the season. Its always good to check before you go. It came as a surprise that  Bear Mountain State Park was closed to us because the road cannot accommodate motor homes. Even so, NY City so dominates your vision of New York its easy to forget that the back country in many places is rural and green with rivers and pleasant small towns. We enjoyed the slower paced drive away from the interstates.

We visited Hershey's Chocolate Factory in Hershey, PA. earlier in the month, thinking to see how chocolate was made. Instead we found a Disney-like grounds with all kinds of attractions; a rose garden; 3-D Movies; trolley Rides; and, in short, a wonderland for kids. In one attraction, kids, or adults for that matter, can put on the aprons and make their own cookies with all the sprinkles, choco bits and candy decos. Fun for sure.

We rode little cars through a fake factory that took us from where the cacao beans are grown to the final mixing and packaging of the candy bars and other products. Very swift and simple; about five minutes; probably perfect for kids attention span, and of course, the wonderful lure of chocolate treats.

In the picture, it actually looks like real, liquid chocolate, but its  painted to appear that way. The kids probably don't notice or care. There is no one to answer questions you might have. They have an extensive gift shop with some fun products and unlikely ones as well and mountains of candy. 
As we drove through town, and  if you don't read the visitor center brochures carefully, you can think that every attraction in Hershey, PA. is funded by the Hershey Company.  Many of them are. Hershey's has done very well by the town named for Milton Hershey, who was born here. He funded the zoo and other community projects, but his greatest contribution, with all that sweet money, is the wonderful school he started for impoverished children..
Milton Hershey and his wife could have no children. He built a school which started out as a kindergarten through 6th grade with housing and travel expenses for poor kids from all over. When he died, he left his entire fortune in a trust fund for that school. Now the school goes from kindergarten through college. It includes a medical college, lighted tennis courts, an olympic sized track, swimming pool, a visual arts center and agriculture and environmental studies center. The grounds are extensive and beautifully manicured with spacious individual houses for poor students. An amazing place. In fact the Founders Hall Rotunda has a 74 foot high ceiling, the 2nd largest in the world. He was a generous benefactor and his trust fund continues to support this marvelous place.  He, of course, didn't live to see this Founders Hall. As long as we keep buying Hershey products, this school will continue to serve a grateful public. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Traveling to the East coast from California, we've covered about 7,000 miles in the RV so far. Most travelers don't get to experience the byways and side trips as deeply as we do. And, this trip has a purpose, an eventual reunion with Jim's family members.  I took a picture of Jim with his closest cousin Simone Couisneau Purcell and her husband Pat. Jim and Simone grew up near each other as kids and considered each other more like brother and sister. His last visit was in 2007. We had lunch at her house in Bergenfield, NJ and though the visit was short we will see her again in late July.

We returned to Palumbo's for a light supper, potato salad and the all American hot dog, grilled. Also organic in this case. Jim and Ginnie have chipmunks zipping around the yard all the time and I finally caught one for the camera. Its mouth is lumpy with found treasures.

We enjoyed another walk in their favorite nearby garden, Laurelwood. Because it was later in the day, we caught some fat frogs out for an evening mosquito meal.

We visited the private for-residents-only Pines Lake and watched the sunset. New friends for me, a sweet three days, then back on the road to whatever is around the bend.

Monday, May 24, 2010


The Thomas Edison National Park houses his industrial complex, laboratory and his personal estate, which he sold to his wife to avoid creditors, when he lost millions on the phonograph. This collection is one of largest in the US Park system.  Because the whole complex was closed shortly after he died in 1931, everything stands just as it did then. Their personal estate was given over by his wife Mina, at her death in 1947, complete with furnishings and personal photos. Both Edisons are buried on the estate grounds.

To understand this complex, driven man isn't easy because brilliance is sometimes as much a curse as a gift. His first wife died, but his second marriage to  beautiful, rich, socialite, Mina Miller, was troubled, understandably, since Edison spent more time with his inventions than his family. He had this small bed in his office to be close to tools, drawings and his  library in case of inspiration during the night. He often worked long hours into the night and napped frequently.
  Edison is best remembered for his invention of the light bulb and phonograph, but he held 1093 patents. Electricity, and all the resulting products to come, were on the horizon of unknown territory. He researched and extended everything he did to make sure that his inventions would be usable and marketable. His first invention was for a legislative vote recorder.  He was a millionaire by age 26. Astounding, when one considers that Edison was completely deaf in one ear and 80% deaf in the other ear. Maybe that is why he was so fascinated by sound machines, the phonograph, the dictaphone (picture above), a movie making enterprise, amplifying musical instruments, and so many other bits and parts of what we take for granted today.

Historians consider that perhaps his greatest invention was the industrial complex. He produced everything to make his inventions usable and marketable in his own production companies. He hired brilliant people, some of whom went on to great inventions and patents of their own. He hired women, Jews, Blacks. It didn't matter to him who you were as long as you had talent to contribute, unlike his friend and peer, Henry Ford, who was openly racist and anti-Semitic. It was  easy to respect this man who was not into self aggrandizement. He openly philosophized that people needed to try hard, work hard and never give up.

His wood shops, machine shops and industrial tools, molds and study center shows a fascinating picture of the way things worked. No safety measures, for instance. If a man lost a finger, or was chemically burned, he was no longer employable. There were no benefits or disability payments. Even so, in 1896 when a German Physicist invented the X-ray, Edison quickly set out to replicate his invention and then see what he could do to improve it and figure what other uses this invention could be applied to. His employee got sick in the process and Edison abandoned work on X-ray when he realized the illness was a result of work on that project. He labeled it dangerous and backed off.

Typically, Edison would mentally configure a new invention, draw it and bring it to the shop and have the craftsmen build it, all the while fine tuning it as they went. He could sometimes work on 20 projects simultaneously that way. And, an employee might spark a new idea while working on the project.

This glob of material in his chemical building was a form of rubber he was working on at the time of his death at age 84. He had already produced a proto-type set of tires with rubber made from the goldenrod plant. He hoped to find a local source for rubber rather than import it from Asian. This museum has much to see. Working belt driven machines of all kinds. Extensive lab equipment, state of the art for its day. Many prototypes; five or more phonographs as he continually built, refined and produced cylinders to make his product usable. He was bested by the Victor Company who came out with a disk, and produced a cheaper machine. He felt quality was more important and lost millions on his superior product. I was fascinated by the lighted stairs in his complex.

Holes filled with a translucent material allows light from below to shine through as you walk. The whole complex is filled with innovative products and devices. Heaven for a mechanical junkie.

I enjoyed the tour through his personal estate, as well. He was wealthy and converted this gas lit building to
bare-bulbed, electrically lit, chandeliers. 
The chandeliers were different in every room. He could and did design fixtures with the bulbs inside the globe but liked to have them outside the globe as well.

Edison had six children, three by each wife. Mina Miller Edison raised them all. I liked this tender picture of him with his infant son. If you go, the museum is located in West Orange, NJ. The staff has demonstrations of his phonograph, movies he made, and plenty of insight into his life from the estimated 5 million documents, notes, letters, 10,000 artifacts. He was a giant of American innovation and industry.