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Two-Month U.S. Road Trip: “Live Free, Eat Pie” in New Hampshire

As we left New York and headed toward New England, the road trip portion of our trip was ready to get serious. We picked up our rental car in mid-town Manhattan and hunkered down for the six-hour drive.

We played the license plate game and time passed quickly as we shouted our finds — “Massachusetts! Maine! Arkansas??” A few minutes into “Live Free or Die,” first-primary-in-the-nation New Hampshire, we were grateful that we had been rented a good ol’ Chevrolet.

We pulled into Portsmouth, a place my husband Christopher visited 20 years ago and recalled as a small fishing and port town. We discovered instead a humming nightlife filled with upscale restaurants and summer revelers. In the revitalized Prescott Park on the waterfront, a summer music festival was underway, with an al fresco performance of The Wizard of Oz heading that night’s bill, and crowds came early to snag their square of grass.

Dinner was ice cream at Clark’s Creamery, where a “small” cone of Shain’s of Maine ice cream is two-scoops high, for $1.50. We liked New Hampshire right away.

Fortified by Moose Tracks and Whoopie Pie ice cream, we finished the last hour drive to Merrymeeting Lake in New Durham, New Hampshire. We arrived at our rental house well past dark. “I can’t wait to wake up and see the lake,” I thought as I closed my eyes, ready for the vacation part of our vacation to begin.

In the morning, my ears alerted me to the rain. But the clouds soon lifted, and we were welcomed by a glistening and quiet lake. The house came with a kayak and a canoe, and we were all eager to try them out. “Can I go in the kayak alone?” seven-year-old Emmett asked. Hmmm. It seemed impossible that my baby was ready to handle a boat on his own. But Christopher thought, “why not?” and helped Emmett into the kayak.

There is a sensation that happens when you watch your child exert a new independence. It is a giddy thrill, accompanied by nervous laughter. Watching Emmett alone in a narrow yellow vessel on a wide blue lake, preposterously green trees all around, I laughed with shock and delight.

The next day, we headed up to Wolfeboro on Lake Winnipesaukee, to try out jet skiing. Christopher passed his NH boat license test, and I begged out and waved goodbye to my family as they set off. While they were on the lake, I strolled Wolfeboro’s Main Street, visiting art galleries and buying a new book at Country Books.

On their safe return from the water, Emmett reported “We went 540 miles per hour!”

Christopher would neither confirm nor deny, but added, “They couldn’t stop screaming about how fun it was.”

I’m now pretty sure my children think New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto has something to do with speeding on a lake, wind bursting through your hair, and shrieking at the top of your lungs.

Our adventure moved on to Lake Todd in Newbury, New Hampshire. As we got settled into the rhythm of life there, we were reminded that one of the beauties of being in a new environment without one’s favorite toys is the added motivation for creativity. This house was more remote, rustic…without cable TV, cell phone or internet service.

One night, instead of the kids watching television while Christopher and I worked on our laptops, we played an Aaron-invented game, challenging each other to name the capitol of each state. Our son Aaron drew freehand a map of the U.S. and checked of capitols as we named them. (Are you smarter than an almost fifth grader? I’m not.)

We decided to spend a day away from the lake, checking out Manchester. Our stated plan: to attend a Minor League baseball game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Our unstated-so-as-to-avoid-protest plan: to meet Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman at a restaurant near the stadium. Disclaimer: I am a Democrat. But I’m also a political junkie, and participating in New Hampshire retail politics was high on my itinerary. A quick peek at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s website let us know he would be at Murphy’s Taproom on Elm Street an hour before game time, talking with New Hampshire folks. Just like they show on TV!

We walked toward Murphy’s and, still not quite believing things work this way, were surprised to see him sitting at a table with a dozen or so people, in a casual green shirt, talking economy.

We shook hands and introduced ourselves afterwards. Politics aside, I liked the man, so I mentioned that I had a good track record: the last time I’d taken my picture with a Governor was 1990, with then-Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton. He responded in a hushed voice: “I’m actually friends with him.”

Will we have shaken the hand of the next President? Maybe, maybe not. But the kids won’t soon forget that in New Hampshire, politics is something that happens between lunch and Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

FamilyGal Laura Diamond of Southern California is in the midst of a two-month adventure on the East Coast with her husband and two sons, ages 7 and 11. This is her fifth installment; she and her family have played at Six Flags Wild Animal Safari in New Jerseyfloated down the Delaware River, reveled in history in Philadelphia and traipsed all over New York City

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