10 Secret Things You Might Miss at the 2015 Topsfield Fair

Topsfield Fair  http://www.topsfieldfair.org/ – Say the words and people who have spent every year at the Fair will tell you what they go for. For some it’s the food, the rides, the animals, the giant pumpkin, the big name concerts,  the food, the food.

I’ve been attending since early childhood and one year I’d earned a trip to Spain through work, and I remember thinking with a pang of sadness when they announced the dates, “Oh no, I’ll miss the Fair”.  That was the first and perhaps the only year I’ve missed.

IMG_3858 Topsfield Fair 2015 Cool things Spencer age 97

Though the Topsfield Fair shakes things up every year with new performers some new and most likely disgusting quasi edible food mutation (does everyone remember fried Jello?) and new stomach churning rides. But I don’t go for the differences I go for the sameness. Every year I get Tempura vegetables, a blueberry crisp and a pickle. It’s just how it goes and when my husband headed to the wrong crisp counter (we go to the one closest to the baby pigs), I asked incredulously – “Where are you going?” And he said “for crisp” and I immediately set him on the right path to THE crisp booth. I go through every farm animal building, check out the flowers, the veggies, the retail sales expo, buy Grade B maple syrup from the Leavitt family, I check out the quilts, and the photos, paintings and hand crafted items  in Coolidge Hall. I only ever go on one ride – the Viking ship, (as a kid my daredevil Mother and I loved the Bullet that other areas called the Hammer. See it here on YouTube  https://youtu.be/2f1RHO-a9Sw )  but that hasn’t been around in decades so Viking ship it is, and I take pictures of it all.

The Bullet aka the Hammer

The Bullet aka the Hammer

From all my experience at this year’s show and every year before, I’ve learned a lot. Did you know you can get discounted admission and food vouchers  when you buy the tickets a week before the Fair starts, or that there are special admission discounted evenings on some weekdays? Or that you get free admission if you donate some time to the Fair? But that’s just the beginning  – here is a list of 10 Secret Things You Might Miss at the Topsfield Fair….

10. Everyone goes to see the great pumpkin. Even when it’s not a record breaker it’s pretty impressive. But if you go on day one of the Fair and head to the Arena, you can actually watch them weigh the behemoths and other out-sized things like 10 foot long gourds, and tomatoes the size of (yes I use this descriptor often but it’s true) baby heads. Watch them gingerly maneuver these gourds that can weigh up to one ton.

IMG_3738 Topsfield Fair 2015 Cool things

9. Dahlias and the flower auction. On the last day of the fair, at 7pm in the flower building they auction off the flowers and plants that had been on display. Throughout the show you’ll find Dahlias in the flower building in random bottles for individual show. This year the fair theme is Sunflowers, and yet as in every year before the Dahlia wins my heart – it’s like the plant version of a sky-covering fireworks.

IMG_3870 Topsfield Fair 2015 Cool things

8. Pole Climbing. It’s not the greased pole of old, but rather a very slick metal pole. Kids get to compete in the Essex County Farm Yard. They likely let a ringer go first. Someone who makes it look easy. It isn’t.

IMG_3875 Topsfield Fair 2015 cool things

7.Want a cheap thrill? Don’t ride the rides, just watch the terror in the eyes of others and hear their helpless screams and then move on to the carousel.

IMG_3899 Topsfield Fair 2015 Cool things

6. Dock Dogs – This is a perennial favorite for viewing and ring side splashings, but you can up the ante by trying to capture the best dogs mid flight.

IMG_5037 topsfield fair tkts yup it's a lab Dock Dogs

5. Winning. Stop being just a spectator, enter. There are so many contests:  food crafts, art, livestock. Put yourself on the line and go after that blue ribbon that comes with bragging rights only. There aren’t huge monetary prizes. My husband and I both got ribbons this year.

IMG_3703 Topsfield Fair 2015 Cool things

4. Veggie Horror Tales. High above the award winning pumpkins, there are fierce and frightening creatures made primarily of vegetation. Make sure to look up when you’re in the veggie building. Of course you may want to shield your picky young eaters from these unholy terrors or  you’ll have to get used to them eating only chicken nuggets for the rest of their lives.

IMG_3854 Topsfield Fair 2015 Cool things

3. Church Services. You want to be first in the door at the Fair but it’s Sunday and you may feel conflicted about missing church services. No worries. Both Sundays at 10 am, the good folks from First Church Boxford start the day off with a blessing, a message and song. And immediately thereafter, the Fair is fair game.

IMG_3814 Topsfield Fair 2015 Cool things Rolan singing at Topsfield Fair Service

2. Send Holiday Cards to the Military. A free and worthwhile activity. Head to the Grange Building, choose from dozens of cards and write a heartfelt message. This group takes care of the rest. Leave the card behind and a donation if you like, and you know one serviceman or woman will know they are appreciated.IMG_3908 Topsfield Fair 2015 Cool things

1.  Bacon. Nuff said? Tucked away in the Midway among the rides and close to Parking Lot E is a relatively new vendor. Bubba’s Bacon. Bacon popcorn, 1/4 lb of bacon on a stick, chocolate covered bacon and new to me – Bacon Balls (made of ground bacon with a little ground beef, shaped into meatballs wrapped in bacon and fried. It’s a bacon lovers dream come true.

And as an extra bonus –  3 favorites from years gone by….please, Topsfield Fair,  bring these back…

Glass Mosaics. After being on my feet for hours pushing my way through crowds of sticky handed kids, I loved heading to the picnic table to make a cut glass mosaic. I spent a lot of time there recharged my batteries and gave my feet a much needed break as I made a colorful Lightcatcher. See some of my efforts below.

dsc_0402-suncatchers Topsfield Fair mosaic glass

Daring Diving.  Team dives from frighteningly high temporary towers into tiny pools sometimes while on fire.

DSC_0624 Topsfield Fair contest Photography Top 20 dive

Bubble show. Kids don’t need to shower on the fair days when the bubbles are flying. Giant bubbles, frothy bubbles, bubbles from wands and guns. Good clean fun.

DSC_0507 Photography Top 20 bubbles topsfield fair 2013

The Topsfield Fair runs for 10 days ending on Columbus Day each year.  You may need to go twice if you want to add a few new things to your personal repertoire. Fair enough!

(c)Alison Colby-Campbell

Super Moonstruck

My husband worked until 10 on the night of the Full Super Blood Moon Total Eclipse. He guided airplanes into our local airport. He needed to make sure they weren’t blinded by the magic happening in the sky.

IMG_3516 Haverhill Full Moon Eclipse 09.27.2015

Almost never does a super moon, total lunar eclipse and crystalline night sky converge in Massachusetts at a reasonable hour for working people to view. But they did on September 27, 2015.

According to USToday.com “The last time this happened was in 1982. The next time this will happen will be 2033.”

Add in the fact that this is a blood  moon and you can begin to understand what a special phenomenon it is. And while this may attract the zombie, vampire, werewolf set, unfortunately, or rather fortunately, the title “blood moon” is derived from a much more mundane rationale. “Because a lot of light scatters off the Earth’s atmosphere, the moon will not look completely dark but have a coppery red color — hence the blood moon moniker.     http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/09/25/blood-moon-lunar-eclipse-super-moon-need-to-know/72790162/

IMG_3522 Haverhill Full Moon Eclipse 09.27.2015

Though I’d resigned myself to skip anything more than a precursory viewing over the roof of our condo, I changed my mind after my husband called to remind me and went to downtown Haverhill. My first hope was to capture our mighty fine city with the moon overhead. The moon had different  plans. It  moseyed straight up and too high to make a connection with our buildings and the city lights did little to aid visibility. Plan B – I headed farther across town to Winnekenni Basin – the calm and lovely water way at the base of our city’s castle’s.


First thing I noticed was that I was not alone. The parking lot was full and I had to park illegally within the parking area. Lots of parents and kids and adults with cameras and telescopes and folding chairs and blankets and snacks for squirmers who later abandoned their strollers and blankets for the swing set. Sometime in the night  the scent of hazelnut coffee teased my envious nostrils. I reminded myself this was not a party this was a Mel Torme moment* – aka a once in a life time chance and I intended to document it, even though I couldn’t find my tripod and so would need to rely on my ability to keep perfectly still while shooting the moon.

IMG_3547 Haverhill Full Moon Eclipse 09.27.2015

Initially, I’d say one in every three shots had any value at all to it and as the light from the moon was extinguished bit by bit my small camera couldn’t keep up.

I grabbed both my Nikon D3100 with the Tamron 18-270 lens and my trusty pocketbook camera Canon SX170 IS with the built in 5.0-80.0 mm. The Canon has a 16x optical zoom and a 64X digital zoom. And that believe it or not was what I was able to use best with the auto focus. Tip about shoot the sky without a tripod in the night. It’s dark. And changing lenses and settings was beyond my minuscule abilities without blasting enough light to disturb the rest of the moon-fools.

Haverhill Full moon eclipe 09.27.2015 collage

My ‘decent shot’ to ‘blurred mess’ ratio was shifting in the wrong direction and so I watched for a moment and took in the eclipse by looking at the actual sky rather than through a viewfinder. It was magnificent and I felt the pang associated with wanting to share something with someone special while perched among strangers I couldn’t see except when a kid or dog went missing.  A car pulled in and its headlights illuminated a few kids cuddled in blankets and adult couples hunkered down on the front seats or the tailgates of their vehicles. The eclipse was nearly complete and it had been several minutes between workable shots  and I was fiddling around trying  to will the private  plane overhead to pass in front of the moon, learning in  the process that my psychic powers are sadly inadequate for that task.   I heard someone call out the time “It’s after 10,  let’s get home”. And without much whining from tired kids, they were off.


At that moment I realized the eclipse wasn’t over,  the moon glass was half full. We had just “hit return” and soon the moon’s brightness would be outshining the stars again.  And I knew where and who my special someone was.  I envisioned us sharing a cordial or a glass of blood red wine, holding hands,  and watching Act 2 together.

IMG_3543 Haverhill Full Moon Eclipse 09.27.2015

I drove back across town, cursing as the person in front of me couldn’t decide among Wendy’s, Heav’nly Donuts, or McDonalds and stopped and pondered at each. I begrudgingly stopped at a light turned yellow because by all my calculations I knew it would be red before I passed. I  carefully maneuvered through my complex’s parking lot where shadowy shapes clustered around telescopes and binoculars and soccer mom chairs. I thought I’d find my husband out there, but neighbors said he went straight inside after work.

I did the same

“Jon, Jon, where are you?”

“Up here”

I bolted up the steps…while calculating which cordial to pour and which binoculars to pull out of the basement. And, found him beneath the covers. He’d already turned himself in for the night because his shift had changed and he had to open up the airport  tower in the early morning. A fast turn around, as that is called (though he gets home at 10:15 pm and gets up at 6 am), ruled out both alcohol and moon safaris.

IMG_3605 Haverhill Full Moon Eclipse 09.27.2015

Sans husband, I  moved to the next special someone –  my invalid bunny Bullwinkle. I held him to the window and wished for the moon magic to heal his compromised body. He didn’t squirm too much so I took that as a sign that he was appreciating the glow, but laid him down soon thereafter, he’s not a fan of being held. I changed his bedding, refreshed his water , and poured him some Critical Care gruel. We sat together on the floor for a while, me looking up and out the window stroking his fur mindlessly, him flipping his bowl to get every last drop. And I think we shared a special moment. I’m not sure we’d agree on what is was. His moon miracle was getting extra gruel because some extra spilled into his bowl and in my haste I didn’t try to rectify the problem. Mine was some quiet time at least in the vicinity of my loved ones, counting my blessings.

Bullwinkle the night sky and angel Mystic the moon

Bullwinkle-the night sky and angel Mystic -the moon

(c)Alison Colby-Campbell

*To learn about a Mel Torme moment read this post https://brain4rent.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/i-still-hate-jazz-but-mel-torme-changed-my-life/ 


UPDATE AUG 24 – I wrote this blog a short while ago only to learn of true actual real heroes who thwarted a terrorist act on a train in France. And still these heroes say they are not heroes but simply people hoping to survive what would have been a deadly attack. They deserve our praise for their actions and the reminder that we need to take action in the face of terror and for that matter injustice.

U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their longtime friend Anthony Sadler and British businessman, Chris Norman – you are inspirations.  http://mashable.com/2015/08/24/top-honor-americans-briton-train-attack/?utm_cid=mash-com-fb-main-link


“I hate people.”

I’ve said that not a few times when especially worked up about cruel and senseless acts or incomprehensible meanness. So I’ve learned to self medicate by internet surfing for ‘hero stories’ about animal rescuers and people who care. If I’m having a bad day or lacking direction in the universe, I binge on hero stories to remind myself not all people, not even most people, are miserable pieces of crap.

Everyone who could be a hero to someone or something raise your hand

Everyone who could make a difference, raise your hand. Hmmm, it should be everyone.

For a couple of days now, I’ve been thinking of the way our society uses the word “hero”.  We apply the hero label equally to animal rescuers to firefighters to whistle blowers, to the guy who shoveled the walk for his elderly neighbor, to sports figures or celebrities to someone who returns lost money, as well as the men and women who run into burning buildings or fight for our country. And if you’d read as many hero stories as I have, you’d notice something.  Most of the real heroes don’t want that label.  And that got me thinking, maybe these doers of exceptional deeds of selflessness understand some things we need to share.

First, believe me, I don’t want to belittle or be disrespectful to any people making sacrifices and helping out – but I was wondering if maybe we should just call them “people”. It might encourage us all to adopt the premise that compassion, getting involved, and putting ourselves out there does not require anything extraordinary; it  is what is expected of us as humans sharing space on this planet, that these responsibilities do not and cannot fall only on the shoulders of designated heroes or super heroes. That caring is a natural reaction from any people witnessing need.

A second thought about heroes, I mean ‘people’, – they don’t wait for the perfect scenario. They don’t stop and contemplate,  they don’t worry about not having training and certification for this or that, or the right tools or the right clothes or the necessary amount of time. They reacted to the best of their ability at a given moment, a moment they recognized because  they were present in the real,  rather than the virtual, space around them. How many of us would have distractedly walked by, missing the sound of the whimpering puppies in the dumpster, or avoided the desperate gaze of a frightened runaway? (Personally, I might have heard the puppies, probably missed the gaze.)

I guess what I am wondering is whether the label “hero” for what should be everyday acts of compassion is a detriment to compassionate acts.  Making it seem too extraordinary to do things like help a neighbor, call the fire department when smoke is smelled, pick up trash on the neighborhood street. Does the label provide an excuse (I’m not hero material) not to act?

It’s pretty obvious that there are way, way more ‘people’ in the world than ‘heroes’. So if we, the people, each stepped up and acted out of a desire to fulfill a need, what a force we would be.

That dream lets me imagine a day when we could feel proud to be called one of the ‘people’?

Well,  that ends today’s rambling.

Love to you all, except the mean and cruel people. (If I was as good as I’d like to be, I’d write “especially to the mean and cruel people”, but I’m not there yet, I’m still a work in progress).

What are your thoughts?

(c) Alison Colby-Campbell

Nova Scotia Sign Language – Personality Quiz

I love Nova Scotia.  A lot.

Despite multiple meetings in the province every year for my work with Nova Star Cruises, (Shameless self promotion: Nova Star the overnight ferry with cruise caliber amenities that travels daily from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. We’re talking Atlantic Canada for my American friends who are geographically challenged), when I do have vacation time, I still choose Nova Scotia.

IMG_0906 for Lisa ArnoldMy most recent trip had three destinations planned – Halifax, the city of everything, Wolfeville in the midst of the fastest growing wine region in North America, and Digby, the home to the world’s largest scallop fleet and so much more. Okay four destinations if you also include all the miles in between. It’s a three-hour drive from Yarmouth, where the Nova Star terminal is, to Halifax but you could stretch the trip for days, if you wanted to take in everything.  I will report on my roadtrip in subsequent posts. But in my belief that we all should visit Nova Scotia (it’s awesome overload), comes the caveat that we should all understand the Nova Scotia road signs when we go…

First, remember that speed limit signs are in kilometers so I spent hours of effort trying to calculate as follows “if the speed limit sign says 90, the speed is about half plus a little extra, so 50-ish”. My audible calculations drove my husband crazy enough that he got out that loathsome-to-men-everywhere implement – his car instruction manual to switch the speedometer to kilometers  That’s akin to asking for directions for goodness sake. Did you even know your car is most likely capable of switching over?

motorcycle sign Nova Scotia 20150721_084331_resized

Nova Scotians are about the nicest people in the universe. Where else would you see a sign  so welcoming and friendly to motorcyclists? (Do you know the largest motorcycle rally in Canada is held September 2-6 2015 in Digby, Nova Scotia and two of the Sons of Anarchy will be at the event this year, and that motorcycles (even RVs) are welcome on Nova Star.  http://wharfratrally.com/enjoy-the-rally/sons-of-anarchy-at-wharf-rat-rally My friend Laura Simmons of Wharf Rat Rally sent me that picture) So I know they aren’t trying to confuse me, but I’m  a natural at confusing myself.

This American doesn’t quite think in a straight line. So here is my quiz for you to see if you think like a Nova Scotian (understand the signs) or a Colby-Campbell (not really getting it).

IMG_0675 Nova Scotia Road Signs

1. Does the above mean:

a) Excellent checkerboard park on right

b) Some seriously bad piece of road on right

c) Make up your own

IMG_0829 Road Signs NS

2. Does the above mean:

a) Shuffleboard or pool tables ahead

b) Wine ahead

c) Make up your own

road signs ns 50363093) Does the above mean?

a) Your car will spontaneously compress at 0 degrees Celsius

b) Bridges Freeze First (that’s how we say that in the States, and by the way we turn these signs away when it’s summer.)

c) Make up your own

IMG_0847 Road signs NS

4. Does the above sign mean:

a) Seriously, I got nothing

b) Balance Rock Ahead

c) Make up your own

IMG_0715 road Signs NS

5. Does the above mean?

a) Manger scene ahead, because there’s no room at the inn

b) Hotel rooms ahead

c) Make up your own

IMG_0714 NS Road Signs6. Does the above sign mean, (Note: read #7 before answering #6):

a) Old fashioned jail (gaol) cell ahead

b) Museum

c) Make up your own

IMG_0849 Road Signs NS7. Does the above sign mean:

a) Mens room

b) Museum

c) Make up your own

IMG_0717 Road Signs NS8. Does the above sign mean:

a) This is where you’re “at”

b) WiFi

c) Make up your own

IMG_0830 Road Signs NS9. Does the above sign mean:

a) Clothing-optional hippy commune ahead

b) Greenhouse ahead

c) Make up you own

IMG_0845 Road Signs NS10. Does the above sign mean:

a) Crown site aka a site of royal significance ahead

b) Bumpy road

c) Make up your own

IMG_0872 Road Signs NS

11. Does the above mean:

a) Something is up ahead 1 km, we’re not quite sure what it is, but if you find out please report back. Thank you.

b) Information ahead

c) Make up your own

NS Road sign truck edited

12. Does the above mean:

a) Truck carrying steaming heap of something will crash into a cinder block wall. How do they predict such things?

b) Construction traffic could be entering or leaving on the right and may be moving slower than through traffic. Be careful whenever there are differences in speeds. (In which case a picture really is worth a thousand words)

c) Make up your own

Answer key:

All ‘A’ answers are mine, all ‘B’ answers are Nova Scotian; all ‘C’ answers make you a cool and colorful person who should definitely be my friend.

Now here are my very few gripes –

2. Come on, show me the bottle, grapes are just fruit until it’s wine in a bottle, or on desperate days in a box.

4. Balance rock is a fabulous natural formation following an awesome short trail through many types of landscape culminating in 235 steps down, and conversely 235 steps back up. It’s in Digby. But what the heck – that is the worst sign ever in the one place I saw it without the label on it. But I definitely want the design-the-sign job, it appears as though you design whatever the heck you want. Note the day after we were at Balance Rock the area experienced a 3.8 or so earthquake. We hope that rock is still balancing. Someone please send pictures.

6 & 7 Both mean museum…seriously what’s that all about – do they distinguish between types of museums? Why is one a darker blue than the other? What does it all mean? My contact in NS said he only ever knew about the key sign.

12. Written description and the photo come from the official source.  http://www.novascotia.ca/sns/rmv/handbook/DH-Chapter3.pdf

Review your answers and come visit Nova Scotia and take your own pictures of road signs and send them to me. And let me know how many of you are “my people.”

(c)Alison Colby-Campbell






Learning to Live Without Castle Envy in the Shadow of Yet Another Royal Wedding

Hammond Castle at the draw bridge

Hammond Castle at the draw bridge

Yesterday after my second day within a week inside a Gothic-style castle, I figured out that in the realm of unobtainable over-sized domiciles I am more of a mansion girl than a castle girl. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, even as a kid I never wanted to be a princess deeming it too restrictive for a girl who’d rather play outside barefoot in the woods trying to make animal friends despite the resulting feet that could only be cleaned with a Brillo pad or making every attempt in the yard to beat the neighborhood boys at their games (touch football sure, whiffle ball absolutely, tree climbing “See you at the top”). Those movies like “Princess Diaries” just reconfirmed that the life of learning about posture, and how to say only the polite things while wearing court-approved dresses was not the stuff of dreams, but of nightmares for me. I once heard an unsubstantiated story that the royal family is not allowed to be seen chewing in public.

DSC_0404 Hammond Castle June 13

Coincidentally I came to my realization on the very day some reality star commoner (Sofia Hellqvist) wed the third in line to the Swedish throne Prince Philip Carl. Her cathedral veil sufficient enough to mostly cover the tattoo at the nape of her neck. Her elegant gown created by someone who was chosen among Swedish designers and best described as demur. Maybe she attached the sleeves with an Allen key to finish an Ikea design.  I couldn’t help wondering what that dress would have looked like if she’d married say, a billionaire entrepreneur. But my own biases aside they looked happy enough when they kissed, the groom especially so. The photos shared none of the timid, almost haunted and studied-smile appearance of Princess Diana when she married her prince just days beyond her twentieth birthday. But then again Princess Sofia has a decade of more worldly experience; she appears more confident in herself and her future happiness and if she’s happy I’m happy for her.

DSC_0383 Hammond Castle 2015

But I digress – this story is supposed to be about castles.

Hammond Organ

Hammond Organ could you dust once in a while?

HAMMOND CASTLE, 80 Hesperus Ave, Gloucester, MA www.hammondcastle.org

Hammond Castle, constructed between 1926 and 1929, was the home and laboratory of John Hays Hammond, Jr. the man who effectively changed his legacy from inventor of remote radio control used for wartime pursuits to being known as the “Hammond Organ Guy with a Castle”.

The Cardinal's Guest room

The Cardinal’s Guest room

It was Hammond’s castle layout and subsequent caretaker’s interior design that sealed the deal on my not wanting to live in a castle. When our party arrived we were not advised to view a video in a tiny room that sat three (we were a party of four) that might have helped with our bearings inside. So we wandered around trying to follow a less than comprehensible map that didn’t distinguish well between floor levels. We’d get trapped in narrow deadends in some rooms not really worth viewing. With a hearty nonagenarian (he walks two miles a day) with some visibility issues we found the castle to be completely inaccessible for the handicapped and too dark for older eyes. We ended up running ahead at each winding staircase, some without handrails to see if the room at the end was actually worth his considerable effort to enjoy it. Many were not. No one made mention of this when we bought our tickets, though it is on their website, but ours was an unplanned visit so we hadn’t seen it.


Inside the castle were the artifacts – it seems as though Dr. Hammond considered himself an agnostic, yet he was obsessed with religion – its accoutrements and design. He also collected suits of armor, gargoyles and lots of other stuff including the purported/rumored 15th century skull of a crew member on Columbus’ ships. My daughter chuckled when she read that and I started wondering – how does one get the skull of a crew member from Columbus’ ships…..did some family member in the 1500’s realize the skull could be valuable, or was there grave robbing involved? “Where is the provenance” as they say on Antiques Road Show? Or was someone scamming the brilliant Dr. Hammond with his obsessive need to collect? Dr. Hammond ultimately bequeathed the behemoth to the Catholic Church and I wondered:  “Did pieces get sold off and replaced with replicas before the beleaguered Catholic Church sold it? Did celebrated organist/castle owner Virgil Fox sell stuff when he couldn’t recoup his expenses through his summer time concert series?? Who owns it now? And for that matter how did they get all those religious pieces?

DSC_0454 Hammond Castle 2015

I think my aunt had a couch with throw pillows made of that same material and fringe.

The placement of so many of the collected items seemed to lack thought and design combining what looked to be the couch left out on the sidewalk when school was let out at an urban college next to an ancient tapestry. Some of the vestiges of wars long gone by looked flimsy enough to be Chinese-made remnants from a high school Halloween party, one of the better parties mind you, but neither ancient nor particularly valuable. I tried to make myself understand that this hodge podge is the authenticity of Hammond Castle, it is not actually a medieval structure and Dr. Hammond’s style sensibility combined modern comforts with antiquities, that what I didn’t like was his sense of style, but that didn’t quell my sense that we were being duped.

IS this a Gothic couch do you think?

Is this a Gothic couch do you think?

And yet there was some brilliance exhibited. The courtyard is weather controlled and not in the normal way. A push of a button can summon rain or fog. The Hammond organ in the great room which someone told me is no longer play-able is an amazing piece with 144 stops and estimated 8,200 pipes according to http://theatreorgans.com/laird/top.pipe.organs.html. A fact in the video states: Dr. Hammond produced over 400 patents and the ideas for over 800 inventions.  Second only to Thomas Alva Edison in number of patents….” Personally I think his choice of locations was pretty brilliant , too, an amazing view of the sea said to overlook the location of the Wreck of the Hesperus, and yet the views were surprisingly limited in the very few of the rooms we were able to visit.

DSC_0425 Hammond Castle June 13

Table appears a bit narrow

Though I hadn’t been inside since elementary school, I sailed passed the castle on a number of occasions aboard Essex River Cruises http://www.essexcruises.com where tourguides pointed out the giant structure, and alluded to stories of eccentricities (a mausoleum that held the remains of Dr. Hammond and his dead cats in large jars of formaldehyde that was deliberately overgrown with poison ivy, suits of armor and of hauntings that may be the black cat that Dr Hammond said he would be reincarnated as.

Self portrait of  Dr. Hammond and his leaf.

Self portrait of Dr. Hammond and his leaf. The red thing is a flower, his leaf is beneath that

The whole visit frustrated me – couldn’t see the views, felt entirely claustrophobic despite the possibility of an expansive ocean view, couldn’t understand what was going on and why they left things like a contemporary electric juicer in the kitchen, sensing a lack of authenticity.

Ego often is the companion of brilliance but this guy had an almost life size nude statue of himself in the courtyard. His wife insisted on the application of a modesty leaf; it was not a large leaf. The guy actually purchased the facade from 15th (?) century store in a French village to decorate his tiny courtyard so why did I feel like the person who saw how the magician did his trick. Everything felt suspect. The audio overlay in the video stated that Dr. Hammond, when he was all alone, would dress in 14th century monk garb and perch in an alcove in the great room to read himself to sleep. So I snorted and wondered perhaps too loudly – “so then who took the photo of that very private moment and shared it in the video?” That’s when my husband suggested perhaps we’d seen enough, and we set out to find the sunshine and the too many irregular stone steps that  would return us to our car.

Basket looks authentic, right? From the dollar store.

Basket in the ancient money chest looks authentic, right? From the dollar store.

When I left, the castle was still a mystery to me. Even upon returning to my computer, Google search couldn’t answer my questions – who owns it, or much about the privately held company.

If you do go, do as much research as possible before visiting. You will not get any help along the tour route or with the map. And avoid the museum shop except to pay, so much kitsch and so little substance.

DSC_0416 Hammond Castle June 13

I got home and drew a heavy black line in permanent marker across the item on my bucket list that had read “castle-ownership” and highlighted instead the item that said “pick out an open floor plan ocean-front property with floor to ceiling windows and walls as bright as white beach sand at noon” because I want to be inspired by the light rather than the darkness of a gothic castle brimming with discomfort and perhaps a torture device or two.

(c)Alison Colby-Campbell

I remember my first car because……

It’s been a tough week and I’d been looking for endless mind numbing online distractions when I saw that my friend, Rolan DeLoach​, commented on a post I was prohibited from adding to because I wasn’t a friend of the original poster.  The topic was “What was your first car?”

Admittedly I know nothing about cars. I always looked for something safe (though affordable was more important in early years), reliable (see previous note) and able to cart around a few friends. Most of my early cars were nothing more than cheap. I did find the reliable vehicle later on and purchased five count em five Honda Accords and managed to get 300K miles out of each (well 297K and change on one). I only stopped my Honda affair when my lovely mother-in-law gave us a fabulous deal on her car because she worried about safety as my last Honda approached the 300K threshold. None was ever bought new. I believe in Accords and this posed a problem for me. During my Honda decades, I thought they had the worst possible advertising and I felt my fabulous track record as a customer was perhaps encouraging more of the same awful ads. I just want it known here that I bought the cars despite the advertising not because of it.

But back to the first cars, the ones I drove before I’d found the resources and rationale to go with Hondas. In the early years odd colors seemed to attach themselves to the most affordable vehicles. I did have my standards. There was one color that no matter how cheap the car, I would not buy – sea foam green. Still hate that color but once slid pretty close with a sage green car. But it was not, I repeat, not, sea foam.

Below are my first cars with photos found on the web based on distant and blurry memories. I didn’t care enough about cars to photograph my own.

Now about those colors…..

AMC Ambassador

Forest Green – AMC Ambassador 1969, Photo Source: http://www.metacars.com

1) Forest green AMC Ambassador that I used in my carpool commute to Tufts. Mom sold it to me for $1 and simultaneously that was the first day that I had a migraine. Too much excitement used to do me in.  The car’s claim to fame was  a vivid yellow bean bag chick perched on the dashboard. His name was Cluckles, and eventually he succumbed to the strength of the sun and just started eroding away leaving all those little beans scattered about the car. He’d had a tough life. My co-commuter, David Sheehan, of the brand new GM car each year Sheehans, tried to steal him every time I drove. Just envious I guess, he never had toys, food or tiny beans anywhere in his car. Each time we commuted, we’d arrive at the school for whoever had the earliest class which often meant ‘not me’ and so I’d sit in my car after everyone left listening to AM radio and frequently locking myself out in the Tufts commuter lot.  Tufts in Medford on the Somerville line was a big dark city outside the campus walls, at least as far as this suburban girl was concerned, but it did have certain advantages. If I locked myself out, I’d find a tough-ish looking local kid and ask him to break into my car for me. It had a certain name that breaking in technique, but I don’t remember it now. In any event, these kids always got me back in the car much more quickly than the security guard I tried once. They were always very helpful to the young co-ed in distress, and that’s probably what started my “bad boy”phase, I mean they had such useful skills.

AMC Gremlin Periwinkle blue 2013-10best-fashion-branded-cars-3-1973-levis-edition-amc-gremlin-photo-488324-s-original

Periwinkle Blue AMC Gremlin. Photo source: AMC Gremlin Periwinkle blue 2013-10best-fashion-branded-cars-3-1973-levis-edition-amc-gremlin-photo-488324-s-original

2) Periwinkle Blue AMC Gremlin that corroded through the floor board. I think I bought this in Medford from a classified ad. I liked the color, never had trouble finding my car in a parking lot, and I figured it was at least better looking than a Pacer. One day as everyone from my first ad agency, DF Sullivan Company, left for a meeting at the then called Sullivan Stadium (now Gillette Stadium in Patriot Place, Foxboro),  I, the receptionist, was asked to pick up the president of Sullivan Stadium (a relative of the agency). My car smelled bad because there was a hole in the floor board and dampness had set into the car so I spritzed my Chanel #5 as I drove and the top fell off and went through the floorboard. I’d frequently lost change through that hole, but the top off the cologne was a big loss as the bottle was nearly full.

Buick Skylark Orange

Orange Buick Skylark Photo source: Mecum Auctions 2012 Spring Classic Spotlight: 1970 Buick Skylark … http://www.victorymusclecars.com

3) The haunted Buick Skylark in orange that I kept longer than I should have because someone with car knowledge told me it would become a classic and the same vehicle would never be recreated. I attended my first car auction with a car knowledgeable friend of my father’s at the auction on Route One maybe Saugus or Danvers, MA. I think I paid a couple hundred bucks. Interesting experience but my tutor was a more decisive guy than I, and I would have probably preferred shopping longer, but that wasn’t to be. I swore the car was haunted because, very frighteningly and without warning the car would accelerate of its own accord. There was no discernible pattern. I never could get anyone to figure out why, but it had a pretty powerful engine that gave me some minimal coolness factor with guys that I didn’t understand, but basically the car scared me. I was only minimally distressed when that one gasped its last. It was totalled (hit and run) on the New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day cusp – the price of getting home earlier than the thugs and late night revelers in the neighborhood.

I’d like to know what the years were on these cars, and maybe could check my lifetime record with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, but I am sure my record would just reiterate what I already know –  to this day I have never owned a brand new car (too practical for the insurance premiums) and I think I only bought one car in the same decade it was built.

What was your first car? What do you remember about it?

(c)2015 by Alison Colby-Campbell

The Truth About Duck Eggs, Hay Bales, and Snow Banks as High as a Moose Eye.

IMG_8786 Duck eggs

After a failed maple syrup expedition in New Hampshire, we could have died when a tractor in front of us kept dropping hay bales into the street narrowed by very high snow banks. We dodged the second bale and then thought “we must save others” and pulled alongside the truck on a straight-away country road to warn the driver.

“Do you know you’re losing hay bales? You’ve lost two in the short time we’ve been behind you.”

“It’s okay my wife is driving behind us picking them up.”

Not really okay, grinning dude, when you must have lost her three bales back and now unsuspecting out-of-staters who don’t anticipate things like having hay bales dropped in their path on a road that should be earmarked for vehicular traffic have to swerve to avoid them.

We could have gotten into a lengthier discussion but a car with two passengers honked and shouted profanity at us for stopping alongside the hay truck, even though we pulled to the curb as soon as we could tell the all smiles hay driver that his inventory control was faulty. Seriously, hay bales should require seat belts on this dude’s truck. The in-stater car folk honked again and for good measure shouted “Mass-holes” as they passed and drove off.

IMG_8785 Duck eggs

Wow, where was the love for saving their lives? So be it. Some people don’t know when they’re being helped and simply assume the worst. Multiple heads shook in disbelief within our vehicle, and that side to side motion brought into sight a sign pitched high in a snow bank. Duck eggs for sale. It wasn’t a farm, just  house, where a guy had a wife who wanted to see what it was like to live with two ducks. And well, 50 ducks later, they’re selling eggs.

Putting all our duck eggs in one basket

Putting all our duck eggs in one basket

I’d heard duck eggs are healthier and better for baking, as well as larger than chicken eggs. Last year we bought a few in Maine and made some super silky, rich scrambled eggs. We briefly discussed whether ducks lay eggs in winter or whether the mounds of snow would prevent them from getting off their roosts. But we needn’t have worried. Ducks, dozens of ducks greeted us. There were curly tailed, fluffy, up right walking, multi-colored ducks strolling the path to their little house nibbling at the snow banks as the traveled.


Duck eggs must have a bit of a mystique about them. Through the several sources I read there were many contradictions.

True: Duck eggs are more nutritious than chicken eggs. Caveat: how much better they are is in dispute. Plus they have more yolk so more cholesterol, but also more protein.

IMG_8793 Duck eggs

True: Duck eggs have harder shells. Caveat: one source said duck eggs last longer because they have harder shells than chicken eggs, but another source said they last a shorter time because the heavier shell is more porous. To test for egg freshness with duck eggs use the same method as used with chicken eggs. Put an egg in a glass of water – if it sinks it’s fresh; if it stands on end, it’s not as fresh but still edible. If it floats – have oatmeal for breakfast.

True: Duck eggs are better for baking and mostly can be substituted one for one with large chicken eggs. Undisputed.  http://www.moosemanorfarms.com/cooking-with-duck-eggs.html

True: Duck eggs are often but not always edible by people who are allergic to chicken eggs. Check with your doctor first. Undisputed.

True: Duck eggs are larger (about 1/3 larger) than chicken eggs. Undisputed.

Amazing three-headed duck?

Amazing three-headed duck?

True: Ducks are more prolific egg bearers than chickens. The best egg layers coincidentally carry our family name. They are the Khaki Campbell which lays well over 300 eggs per year.Undisputed.

True:  Many domestic ducks are from the mallard line which sometimes makes identification difficult. Personal experience.

True: Donald Duck was modeled after a Pekin Duck, a large white domestic duck weighing 9-10 lbs. Pekin is a type of duck. Peking Duck is a Chinese dish. (Aside: Donald may be the cartoon character but I think Indian Runner Ducks are actually funnier.) Source: http://www.feathersite.com/Poultry/Ducks/Pekins/BRKPekin.html

Pekin Duck by my best estimation.

Pekin Duck by my best estimation.

True: Duck eggs are harder to find and more expensive than chicken eggs. Here are two sources for finding duck eggs in Massachusetts. Always call first and try to find the most local producer possible.

http://www.agrilicious.org/local/fresh-duck-eggs/massachusetts  http://www.farmfresh.org/food/food.php?zip=02114&food=288

True:  Ducks make nice friends.


Duck egg nutrition – http://www.ohadi.com/duck-egg-nutritional-facts.html

Duck identification –http://www.feathersite.com/Poultry/Ducks/BRKDucks.html


Egg colors: http://www.fresheggsdaily.com/2012/02/rainbow-of-egg-colors.html

(c)Alison Colby-Campbell