Exploring Greater Boston

We wanted our last full day in New England to be memorable, so we made sure we had a memorable day!

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The memories began with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  The Museum was established by, you guessed it, Isabella Stewart Gardner, who was an art collector throughout her life.  Her generous endowment came with an odd requirement: the art could never be changed.

As such, the Museum looks much like it has since 1903, when it was established.  The building was designed by Willard Sears, who crafted it to look like a 15th Century Venetian Palace.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner

The art in the Museum consists of works collected by Gardner during her lifetime (1840-1924).  They are hung salon style, with separate gallery guides for each wall.  Given that the Museum is fairly crowded (at least it was on this Saturday), and that each room contains copious art works, it can be time consuming to ascertain the creator of each art work.

The rooms are beautiful.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner

And the art is rich, with pieces by artists as diverse as William James, the famous psychologist who painted his brother, writer Henry James…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry James

…and Rembrandt…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner

…Rubens…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner

…Titian…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner

…and John Singer Sargent.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner

The Museum was the victim of a 1990 robbery, when 13 paintings were stolen by thieves whose identities are still unknown.  The paintings were never recovered.  Amazingly, the Museum did not have insurance, which seems incomprehensible.  Interestingly, even if it had insurance, it wouldn’t have been able to replace the works with other works–because of Gardner’s legal insistence that the collection never be changed.  So, currently, the Museum simply hangs the empty frames where the 13 masterpieces used to be.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner

While these frames are a reminder of the world’s most costly burglary, the remainder of the collection evokes the beauty of the still extant works.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner

Harvard University Visit – Victoria McClendon-Leggett

Harvard University was founded in 1636 and has a track record of producing notable attorneys, judges, congressmen, and boasts having contributed to the education of a total of 8 presidents. It is for this reason that the political science students among us were particularly excited to see the campus.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Harvard University

We hopped out of the van with our cameras and were immediately drawn to the buildings lining Harvard Square, which is the most historic location in Cambridge. We found Massachusetts Hall (the oldest building on campus, built in 1720) and the main library before ducking into a small café that faced the square for a reprieve from the blustery winds that made it feel several degrees colder than it actually was. When we got our bearings, we set off across campus with the goal of seeing their law school – one of the most famous in the world. At many universities, the law school is confined to one single building, at Harvard however, it is comprised of several. We were only able to get into the foyer of the law school library to have a look around.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Harvard University

We had done some light research beforehand and read that the views of Cambridge from the terrace on the science building was the best on campus. This proved to be quite true. We stood high up in the gusty wind to capture a few pictures of the area. The only downside to our visit was that because Harvard is such a heavily visited tourist area, many of the buildings were inaccessible without a student I.D. This did not deter us from taking in the atmosphere on campus, though. We were able to see Annenberg Hall, which was one of the prettiest buildings we came across while in Cambridge and is apparently where freshmen students eat their meals.

While on campus, we saw two black sculptures by artists we were already familiar with, one by Alexander Calder…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Harvard University

…and another by Louise Nevelson.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Harvard University

We left the Harvard Square and explored the streets around it, discovering a trompe l’oeil mural done by Joshua Winer that strongly reminded us of some of the works we’ve seen on this trip by muralist Richard Haas.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Harvard University

After a brief respite in the gift shop, we hopped in the van and had a one more stop before our day was over.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Harvard University

 

Snow Tubing at Nashoba – Makayla Mason

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, our excitement grew when we saw the sun shining on the shimmering slopes of Nashoba Valley Ski Area. We put on our tags, grabbed a tube, and ran to the magic carpet, a conveyer belt that took us to the top. For most of us it was our first time participating in a snow-filled activity, so the anticipation grew even more as we waited our turn.

There were many different lanes that we could choose from, but we leaned more towards the ones that curved and had more potential to send us airborne.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Ski Ward, Snow Tubing

We went down as many times as we could, and would sometimes go down in groups of two, three, or all four, holding on to each other’s feet to stay connected.

The most exciting was going backwards as a group and hitting bumps that sent us soaring a few times on the way down!

As the sun started to set, we sadly made our way off the slopes. We all had windburned faces and were full of bliss from the new experiences and fun we had.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Ski Ward, Snow Tubing

The rapidly setting sun signified the inevitable longing that we were sure to feel from the first day, that our trip in the Northeast was concluding–except for one more stop.

Walden Pond

As we were driving back to the hotel, we realized that we were only a few miles from the famous Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau went to live for two years.  His time there inspired his “Walden: Or, a Life in the Woods,” a classic of American literature.

Today, it is part of a state park, which contains a model of his cabin and a statue of Thoreau….

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau

…as well as the Pond.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau

The Pond was partially frozen over, and it–along with the sunset–added to the location’s beauty.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau

Following Walden Pond, we stopped by the town of Concord, MA for dinner.  Intriguingly, this is also where many famous authors are buried–writers such as Thoreau…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau

…Emerson…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Walden Pond, Ralph Waldo Emerson

…Louisa May Alcott…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Louisa May Alcott

…and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Incongruently, this area, so rich with the presence of 19th century authors, is also the general area where Walter Gropius and his wife decided to build.  The “Gropius House” is a Bauhaus oddity, built with traditional materials while combining a bit of modern and post-modern stylistics.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Boston, Walter Gropius, Gropius House

While somewhat out of character with our day’s explorations, it fit with the overall eclecticism of the trip.

 

Guadalupe Mountain National Park

The LEAP Center has embarked on trips to more than a dozen National Parks, and while these parks have been across the US, we’ve never visited Guadalupe Mountain National Park, which is located in far west Texas.

The Park isn’t the most spectacular destination in the National Park system, but it does contain a unique ecosystem as well as the tallest peak in Texas.  Guadalupe Peak, sometimes known as Signal Peak, stands 8,751 feet tall.  Granted, that’s not that tall as far as mountains go, but it’s what we’ve got.

More spectacular than Guadalupe Peak, however, is “El Capitan,” a remarkable sheer bluff adjacent to its taller peak.  What El Capitan lacks in height, however, it makes up for in its photogenic qualities.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, El Capitan

While we stopped for photos of both, we hiked neither.  The “top of Texas” hike is about 11 miles, and with only a few hours, such a time-eating hike was not on the agenda.  Rather, we decided to explore the five-mile hike to and from “Devil’s Hall.”

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park

It should be noted that although this hike is listed in the Park’s literature as a 4.2 mile hike, the round trip showed up as about 5.3 miles, according to our fitbits.

The trail begins alongside a creek and, after about a mile, the trail merges with the creek.  The literature describes this as a “tough” hike consisting of crawling over rocks, which is a bit of an exaggeration.  It’s essentially walking through a pebbly, rocky, and occasionally boulder-y creek, and that does sometime involve scooting up rocks or diverting to avoid steeper climbs, but it’s not a difficult trek.  Although we did get fitbit credit for “climbing” 65 floors, the elevation increasee is gradual and occurs early on, and we never felt winded.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park

The limited elevation also means there are few overlooks.  We managed to see some nice views along the trail, occasionally climbing on boulders to get a better view, it’s mostly a pleasant hike alongside a large-ish yet dry creek or a very, very small “canyon.”

The payoff comes after 2 miles, when the persistent trekkers arrive at the “hiker’s staircase.”  While it was dry when we arrived, it was still a very interesting formation, resembling a staircase carved out by a skilled craftsman.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Hiker's Staircase

In actuality, it’s a staircase for a modest waterfall, with a tank at the bottom for the water to pool when its fall was complete.

It is over this staircase that hikers must continue to arrive at Devil’s Hall, which is another 250 yards or so.  The Hall itself is around a corner, so visitors are on it before they realize.  There is a helpful sign for the confused hiker.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Devil's Hall

While not as narrow as many of the parks to which we’ve traveled, the Hall is a picturesque pass, and it offers the hiker a sense of completion.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Devil's Hall

While the Park is inhabited by javelina, elk, deer, eagles, gray fox, coyote, cougars, falcons, and eagles, we saw little of these.  We saw a hungry and lonely deer….

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park

…and we heard two birds, without seeing them (we did see a hawk while driving into the Park).

This modest incursion into Guadalupe Mountain National Park was a pleasant introduction to one of the more isolated parks in the lower 48.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park

Our hope is to return within the year to hike to the “top of Texas,” but, first, we have planned trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park, and, for now, this introductory teaser will have to tide us over.

 

 

A Literary Night Out at Brazos Bookstore

by Victoria McClendon-Leggett

We arrived at Brazos Bookstore in Houston early and had time to leisurely scan through a few books….

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

…before authors Barbara Shapiro and Tim Johnston showed up.

They arrived in a happy mood, introducing themselves and talking a bit about their latest books. For Johnston, this was The Current, a novel centered around a car accident which is conceptually similar to his previous  work, Descent. Shapiro’s latest work is The Collector’s Apprentice, a novel set in 1922 that deals with art theft, mystery, and “a bit of romance.” After speaking briefly about their newest works, they talked a little about themselves and their careers. Johnston shared with us that he has an MFA, but was working as a carpenter prior to writing his first breakout book…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

and Shapiro who has a PhD in Sociology told us that she quit a high-pressure job to pursue writing novels after a conversation with her mother.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

The two got along very well, and seemed to enjoy each other’s company and the crowd.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

Shapiro is a planner, outlining her novels extensively and even creating a color-coded notecard system.  Johnston described himself as a “pantser,” which is an author who flies by the seat of his pants.  He begins the novel with an event and characters, and then works through things to see how they turn out.

They were also different presenters.  Shapiro was very demonstrative…

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…expansively emphasizing her points with hand gestures and facial expressions.

Meanwhile, Johnston was a minimalist…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

…more introspective and displaying an economy of movement.

But the two meshed well.  When Shapiro described her publication history, noting that her first several books didn’t sell, she was thankful for her husband, and emphasized that beginning writers need a partner who “has a salary and benefits.”  Johnston quietly said, “Ah, I need a partner with a salary and benefits.”

Alas, both a highly successful now, making quite a nice living from the royalties on their books, although Tim Johnston still teaches Creative Writing at the University of Memphis.

After the discussion we had a chance to get a few books signed by the two authors who were also kind enough to pose for a group photo with us!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

indeed, with the event being so much fun, the book store manager asked the entire audience to pose for a photo with the authors.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

With Shapiro’s book being (partly) set in France, we headed a few streets over to dinner at nearby Sweet Paris Crêperie, which offers excellent service, good crepes, and amazing milk shakes.

SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Sweet Paris Crepes

We filed in and ordered our crêpes at the register, and they were brought to us at our table as they were ready. There was a variety of sweet and savory crêpes available at the restaurant, but as it was well into dinnertime everyone among us decided to go with savory.

SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Sweet Paris Crepes

Makayla tried ham and gruyere, and I had the Alaskan crêpes, which were stuffed with smoked salmon, pickled red onions, capers, and scrambled eggs, and were topped with dill sour cream and scallions. For dessert, we ordered milkshakes to go.

SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Sweet Paris Crepes

The best flavor by far was Makayla’s Nutella graham cracker shake or the Reese’s shake, enjoyed by Professor Yawn and Stephanie.

With sweet treats in hand, we headed back to Huntsville a little bit smarter and a lot more full.