Our visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum lasted a couple of hours at most. We wandered back into the postcard-worthy mountain village of Stockbridge, found a little general store that made the best homemade chicken salad sandwich north of Donya's kitchen, ate our sandwiches in the car in the pouring rain, and planned our trip north to Vermont. Day's end would find us a long way traveled and settling into a hotel in Burlington, Vermont, the state's largest city (pop. 624,000), nestled snugly to the eastern shore of magnificent Lake Champlain.

A Light Diversion

Yankee Candle Village

First things first. Somewhere just shy of the Vermont state line, we needed a bathroom break and maybe a Diet Dr. Pepper. Exit 24 in Deerfield, MA looked as likely a spot as any to find relief. What we found was the Yankee Candle Village, the place where the first Yankee candles were manufactured and now the site of their signature store. It is the kind of magical shopping experience you might expect at a Disney park. Sure, there were candles of every size, color, fragrance, and description. But there was so much more. One of the coolest attractions was the Bavarian Christmas village. We spent at least a half hour in that area. I especially enjoyed the one place where it "snowed" every four minutes. We had left triple digits in Texas to come here.

One could get used to a 30-second Summer snow flurry every four minutes.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

We left Yankee Candle Village richer for the experience and with a couple of candles and assorted other goodies in tow. We were proud of our unexpected discovery. We were the Lewis and Clark of New England vacationers. Nothing would escape our notice.

Some may see this as good fortune or happenstance. I prefer to think of it as proof that God loves us enough to light our way and litter our path with little blessings we don't see coming and cannot predict.

The Love Bug Bear

Shortly after my parents wed, Dad bought Mom a Teddy Bear. I don't know its name if it has one. I do know it is my only stuffed, furry sibling. I am the oldest of four children. Only Teddy B (let's call him that) is older than me. I grew up with that thing. It was always perched in a sitting position on my parents' bed. He sat on a pillow and leaned back on the headboard with his blank button-eyed stare and expressionless face.

Sometimes, Teddy B was my nemesis. I was a four-or-five-year-old Batman or Kung Fu master and he was the unfortunate immobile victim of body slams, throat punches, and roundhouse kicks. Other times, when I became obsessed with preachers and preaching (Yeah, around five or six years old), he was part of a captive audience. I would rain fire and brimstone on his furry head and send him face down to the altar for salvation. He must have been the most abused and born-again (and again and again) stuffed animal in history.

More than anything, Teddy B was for me a symbol, a token of a man's love for a woman.

I am one of those rare, weird kids who never saw his parents fight. Never. Not once. If they did it, they did it where I couldn't witness. What I did see was a man completely devoted to and dependent upon a woman and vice versa. That is how it was until Dad died March 28, 1991. Moreover, that is how it remains. After Dad departed, no man ever came along worthy of replacing him. Teddy B, however, remains, standing (sitting) silent sentinel over Mom's broken heart. I saw Teddy B when we visited Mom for Christmas in 2014. It was the first time I had seen him in years and years. He was worn, threadbare, and still in his familiar perch.

I determined that moment that I would buy my wife a Teddy Bear. I was quite emotional about it. But Christmas passed and I forgot. Anytime I did remember, it was at the wrong time to really do anything about it.

When we decided on a New England vacation that would include Vermont, I knew what I had to do...

The Vermont Teddy Bear Company

Just south of Burlington, Vermont is the little hamlet of Shelburne, a historic little town with a cool-looking museum that I drove right past. My mind was set. Our agenda was full.

Just south of Shelburne we would find the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. The place was happy, friendly, and as colorful as you would expect. We toured the plant. The process was simple but precise. The attention to detail and commitment to quality affords this Teddy Bear company the confidence to guarantee to repair or replace your bear for the duration of its life.

A lifetime guarantee! I thought back to Teddy B when the tour guide told us this...to Teddy B and the man who gave him to his wife – a gift for a lifetime.

At the end of the tour, there is a hospital where one particularly-skilled lady mends wounded bears. We saw her at work.

The tour was great. The plant was impressive.

I had but one mission: to purchase my wife a Teddy Bear to love and cherish like Mom has loved her Teddy B.

Later on that day, we would visit a Maple sugar farm and sample pure Vermont maple syrup, which would evoke from me a favorite little diddy...

Roses are red; Violets are purple; You're as sweet as Maple surple.

"You have to name him," she said.

I did. Meet Mr. Surple...









I Scream Politics - how Ben & Jerry ruined ice cream

Our next stop was Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory. We knew that Ben and Jerry were on the opposite end of the political spectrum from us. So what? No worries. Ice cream isn't partisan. We ALL scream for ice cream.

But Ben & Jerry are social justice warriors with a vengeance. You have to hand it to them: they are not shy about their worldview. They are not afraid to throw it in your face, ram it down your throat, and bludgeon you with it.

Their facility is colorful. The process of making their unique ice cream flavors is intriguing and impressive. But from the moment you step on the property, on the sidewalk leading up to the main building, you are accosted by politically-charged signs regarding the "war economy," "systemic racism," and climate change. It is like you are going to a Democratic National Convention or joining an Antifa rally. I was ready to leave before I stepped foot in the building.

I didn't leave. I stepped foot in the building.

The guided tour begins with a short video about the history and philosophy of Ben & Jerry's. The video concludes with Ben and Jerry sharing their own thoughts and stories about the company...for a couple of minutes. Then, they twist off on a political rant. When the video ends, there is what Donya described as "an altar call." The snot-nosed kid leading the tour issues a call for anyone interested in learning more about supporting their cause to come to him and speak with him privately.

Thank so Donya's analogy, whenever I see Ben & Jerry's ice cream at Kroger or Walmart or wherever, "I surrender all" plays in my head.

I got the scoop of free ice cream. It was delicious. I was done. Nary a Strother dime was spent on B&J that day, nor shall one ever be again.



The Cider House Rules

I never read that book nor saw the movie by that name. I just know that after I was pummeled by ice cream bullies, it was refreshing to visit the apolitical Cold Hollow Cider Mill. There is just no way to know how much you like apple cider until you drink it fresh and ice cold. Since we were one of only two couples viewing the vat where the process takes place (they were all done with cider making for the day), I sampled the Dickens out of the cider they had for samplin'.

One of their signature products is their "world-famous" cider donuts. I bought a bag. They were goo-ood!

They also had, right near the exit, loaves of cider sourdough bread. (OK! I'm in.) Add a little Vermont cheddar from our next stop at the Cabot Farms store and we had ourselves a delicious snack.


Sugar Works

Our last planned stop on an eventful Vermont-touring day was Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks just outside the state capital of Montpelier. Morse Farm is one of the oldest maple farms in the state. The Morse family helped settle central Vermont and actually learned how to tap Maple trees for sugar from the Native Americans in the region. Since before America won her independence, the Morse family has been harvesting maple sugar. The 20-something young man and his sister who were minding the store the day we were there are Morse family members.

If you love family tradition, stability, and familial love...if you love to see young people proud of their heritage and determined to carry on the spirit of their forebears...add this place to your Vermont vacation plans.

Sweet as Maple Surple

I like it that Sugarworks is included in the farm's name.

Sugar works, for sure. It works way better than the poke-in-the-eye politics of braying jackasses and their bleeding hearts.

Pour some sugar on me, sugar.


A Capital idea?

I told Donya I wanted to at least snap a pic of the state capital. I mean, we were right there.

We drove the three or four miles back into town to find the capitol building.

When we arrived at the state house, we were surprised to find a vocal crowd gathered on its front lawn. A full-throated young woman with a megaphone was addressing the crowd. She was spewing "facts and figures" about the separation of children from the illegal alien parents and castigating Trump and Republicans for the nightmarish mess. "No borders" signs dotted the landscape of onlookers. Honestly, the crowd was pretty small. But then, so it the state. They were also pretty sedated. Several times, the animated woman tried to get chants going, only to have them picked up by a chorus of a dozen or so half-hearted chanters and then die into restless silence.

Huge rally - JK!

I asked a policeman who was wearily watching over the proceedings whether they were mostly concerned with the Canadian border, since Vermont borders Canada. He smirked at me and, I think, considered the taser.

Alluding to the fact that Vermont belched up crazy old socialist Bernie Sanders, I concluded, "I guess they just feel the Bern. Have a good day."

He was smiling when I drove away. My work was done. And we were done...with Vermont. We loved our visit there, but it was time to move on.


Stay tuned...New Hampshire and her amazing state park is next.