Day 721: Weir Farm National Historic Site

Today we left our driveway, where we have been parked for the last three weeks, to officially begin our third year of travels. Ben reinstalled the fifth wheel hitch in the bed of the truck after removing it to take a load to the dump.  Here the lower half of the hitch is installed:


Farewell, camping spot:


Ben saw this wasp while trimming dead branches off a tree.  He’ll explains what’s going on here:

At first, I thought this wasp, which is about 3 inches long, was molting.  After further research, I found out that this is a Giant Ichneumon Wasp (Megarhyssa sp., likely Megarhyssa greenei or Megarhyssa macrurus).  The female uses her antenna to find a Pigeon Horntail larva living inside the tree.  She drills about 1.5 inches through the wood and into the larva using her two inch-long ovipositor, then lays her eggs inside the larva.  When the eggs hatch, they consume the larva.  In this photo, the ovipositor is drilled about halfway in to the tree.  The two loops are protective sheathing for the ovipositor that are drawn away during the drilling process:


Our first stop, just a short drive away in Wilton, Connecticut was the Weir Farm National Historic Site.  Established as a National Historic Site in 1990, it preserves the history and legacy of one of the fathers of American Impressionism, Julian Alden Weir:


J. Alden Weir began his career in New York as an art instructor and portrait painter after studying for several years in France.  Although his early opinions of the French Impressionists were rather critical, Weir began to explore painting in the Impressionist style outside on the grounds of the farm he purchased in 1882.  He preferred softer colors to the French style of bright colors, and focused mainly on his family and scenes around his large and beautiful property:


The Weir Family Home:




Weir painted his wife and children seated on this rock.  In the painting, the tress are spaced far apart and are obviously quite young. Today, the trees have nearly merged at their base and completely cover the rock:


Weir created many beautiful areas on his property.  Here is the entrance to his “secret garden” where several varieties of flowers and shrubs offer ample material to inspire any painter:


The kids and I worked on their Junior Ranger booklets together.  When researching this Historic Site last night, I learned that the Junior Ranger program involved letterboxing which is something we have really enjoyed at different locations on our trip!  We came prepared with our own letterboxing stamps that we added to the 5 letterboxes we found around the property:



B is hot on the trail to letterbox #3 which she found just around the corner of this barn:



After completing the Junior Ranger books, we all headed to Weir’s art studio:


Walking into Weir’s studio was like stepping into another world.  The Park Service has done a wonderful job of preserving his studio space, including several paintings, original paints, and his mixing palette.  The park rangers were very knowledgeable, and told us many interesting facts about Weir’s studio.  We were told that Weir included stars on the ceilings of all his buildings, and we saw the only remaining examples in his studio.  The rangers also told us how Weir made several changes to his studio, including changing the color of the ceiling from green to grey to prevent the reflected light from affecting his work.  He also blocked off a set of windows for a similar reason:




Weir built a second studio for his son-in-law, sculptor Mahonri Young, grandson of Brigham Young.  Many of Young’s works reflected his Mormon roots, including his most famous work, This is the Place, which is displayed outside Salt Lake City, Utah.  The original panels used to cast this work are on site, and two of the panels are currently displayed in Young’s studio:




The kids received their Junior Ranger badges:


Weir Farm had no room for our RV, so we had left it at the nearby G & B Cultural Center and drove over to Weir Farm.  After leaving Weir Farm, we returned to the RV, had dinner, and then visited the various galleries in the Cultural Center:



B took some time to photograph the beautiful flowers outside the gallery:




The director of the cultural center generously offered to have us overnight there, but since the temperature was still in the 90s, we decided to drive another hour to overnight at the Walmart of Branford, Connecticut, which is near tomorrow’s activities.  It turned out to be a great decision, having cooled down to the the mid 80’s with a light breeze by the time we arrived.  It was still really hot and humid, so we broke out the generator to run the air conditioner for an hour before bed.  We sure do miss being plugged in back home with the AC running!

See the trip map for today’s drive and our current location.

Day 699: Tour De Simcha 2015

Our day started at 4:30, and although none of us are early risers, we were dressed, packed, and downstairs by 5:15!  The balloons and decorations from the night before were replaced with these adorable bicycle themed planters on the tables:


After breakfast, we went to get our bicycles and headed for the starting line.  On the way, we were asked a few questions by a local reporter who heard that B was the youngest rider to ever participate in TDS:


We gathered at the starting line full of excitement and maybe a few jitters!  A DJ was on hand playing upbeat music to set the mood.



Our starting line selfie:




Rest stop selfie, still smiling:


The first 32 miles of the route were fantastic.  The girls set a great pace of about 13 mph for the majority of the time.  Having a chance to refill our water bottles and grab a quick snack at each rest stop made a big difference.  Just getting off of our bikes for a few minutes and walking around felt great and made it feel as if it were just a series of smaller rides.  By the time we headed into the lunch stop around mile 52, I was definitely feeling tired.  The girls were really upbeat despite the fact that overall we were slowing down quite a bit.  B and C both decided they would continue to ride for as long as they could.  The majority of the big climbs were in the last twenty miles, but I admired their dedication and headed out with them!


C headed out before us, but had a little crash. She injured her ankle just enough to make riding any further impossible.  She called the sag wagon to be picked up and by the time we caught up to her, B and I gladly joined her.  After a few minutes in the vehicle, a huge rain storm broke and the roads became too dangerous to ride.  All remaining riders were picked up as well, and we met at the final rest stop one mile out of Camp Simcha.  Soaking wet, tired, but really happy to be together for our last rest stop selfie:


The rain slowed down enough for all 126 women and girls to carefully ride into camp together.  The energy and excitement at the finish line is unbelievable.  Hundreds of people, including the campers, were there holding signs, cheering, dancing, laughing and supporting the riders as we arrived in camp.  After dancing for nearly twenty minutes, the celebration moved into the gymnasium where the campers performed, awards were presented, and the riders received their medals.


B receives her TDS medal from a camper:


Team Bike Hard Love Harder (sporting blinking tutu’s and fish helmet covers this year!) receives a special award for raising over $18,000!!!!


After the presentations, we headed for the showers followed by a delicious BBQ dinner.  We boarded our bus back to the hotel, and within minutes, B and C were asleep.  It was an amazing day that none of us will ever forget.


Day 698: Getting Ready for Tour De Simcha

This morning Ben tested out using wider tires with our bikes for off-road use.  To allow the wheel to rotate, he had to cut off the outermost knobs of the tread pattern:


Ben also went for a ride today with Moshe:

Today was spent anxiously awaiting our departure for the hotel to officially register for Tour De Simcha 2015. We both took time to give our bikes a final tune-up, including swapping out B’s off-road  tires for her road tires.


We arrived at the hotel around 6 pm and went through the registration process.  Volunteers were spread around the large meeting room to assist us with our welcome packets, fitting our jerseys, and entering any donations we received in the last few days.  In addition to our registration packets, we received an amazing package of goodies meant to introduce us to the products that would be available at each rest stop along the route.


After checking our bikes in and settling in our hotel room where we joined our friend C, we headed to the pre-ride pasta party.  The dining room was decorated with plenty of TDS themed balloons and was filled with hundreds of people and a huge buffet of delicious foods to choose from.  As we were waiting in line, we noticed the TDS homepage was being displayed on two large screens at the front of the room.  In real time, we could see the total donations continue to increase.  While we were eating, the entire room erupted in cheers and screams when the total reached $500,000!  Together, the 126 women and girls riding in TDS 2015 raised over a half million dollars for Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special.



B and C having a great time at the pasta party:


We couldn’t resist taking a couple of mother/daughter selfies:



The highlight of the evening was listening to our honorary TDS captain, Arianna, speak to us about her journey.  She concluded her speech with a wonderful song about doing things (even difficult things!) with style.  Her infectious smile and incredibly positive attitude made a big impression on all of us.


B and C were lucky enough to have their picture taken with Arianna after the party:


Somehow we all need to settle down and get some sleep tonight.  Our alarm will be going off at 4:30 tomorrow morning!

Kids Helping Kids

For children with cancer or other serious illness, life as they knew it is over. Instead of happy, carefree childhoods, there are days filled with pain, isolation, treatment, and the knowledge of “can’t do this” and “can’t do that.” Not a great way to go through the first two decades of life.

There is one thing that gives sick children the chance to escape the misery of illness: a summer vacation at Camp Simcha or Camp Simcha Special. These wonderful camps, run by Chai Lifeline, give kids the chance to just be children once again. Every summer, more than 400 kids and teens get to play ball, go swimming and boating, exercise their creativity, and make friends with others also living with health challenges. They are no longer sick, they’re just kids. When they leave camp, they go home with friends and memories that will last them throughout the year and give them the will to keep fighting.

Because we believe so strongly in Chai Lifeline’s work, B and I have joined Tour de Simcha. We plan to raise over $5,000 together and we hope you will help us reach this goal by making a small tax-deductible donation of $100. Your support is a critical part of this effort and I know that together we can make a difference to these children. All donations are 100% tax-deductible and the Tour de Simcha website makes donations quick, easy, and secure. Click on the “contact us” link to the right, and we’ll send you the link!


We’ve been training and raising funds for the past few months and the big ride is on Tuesday, July 7th!  B has made a lovely video that she would love to see go viral!  After viewing her video, please take a moment to share it with others so we can reach as many people as possible in the next few days.

Discovering Great Artists

We arrived at our new “home” late this afternoon, and rather than trying to squeeze some homeschool work into the remaining daylight, we opted for some relaxing artwork.  We recently ordered a really great book called Discovering Great Artists by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga.  The book introduces children to the great masters, some familiar like Picasso, van Gogh, and Michelangelo and others might be less familiar like Nevelson, Arp, and Hokusai.  Each page is filled with hands-on projects that focus on one artist and one style of artistic expression.  A brief biography and portrait of each artist is presented at the beginning of each project.  This book is an excellent resource for children as young as three as well as older elementary children.  The projects that represent each artist are easily imitated by all ages and abilities.  This is a must-have resource for anyone who wants to explore art with children.

The artist we chose for today is Giotto (ZHEE-O-TO), the once chief master of cathedral building and public art in Florence, Italy.  He lived from 1266 to 1337.  In his day, paints were made from grinding minerals, clay, berries and even insect into fine powder and mixing the pigment with egg yolk.  Apparently, the paint is very strong and long lasting.  We can still enjoy Giotto’s paintings today which are over 700 years old. 

We found some rocks around the campsite and used them to crush some artist pastel chalk for our egg paint.  We have recently visited several Native American historic sites that feature the mano and matate used for grinding.  It was fun to try our hands at this for our project. 



We mixed in the egg yolk/water mixture to make a smooth paint.  I have to say, grinding the chalk was messy fun! 



Painting with this egg tempera was surprisingly pleasing!  It went on the paper very smoothly, and could be layered a bit like watercolor. 



(For all my students back home in New York, this would be a great project to use up all that extra sidewalk chalk left over from the summer!)



Stay tuned for more projects from this great book!