Burning Chicken, August 2017

Burning Chicken is an outdoor party we have hosted since 2006. It involves building and burning a large wooden structure in the shape of an animal. Last year we were on our big trip so we didn’t do it, but this year we were back. And it was a camel! The sequence below goes from finish to start:

We had some rain but nothing too bad. And we had a brilliant double rainbow for a little while.

Another great thing we did this year was build and use a mud oven! We bought kiln bricks and made a base, then made a curved frame from willow branches. We built it up with more bricks and clayey mud, the predominant soil there, mixed with some dry grass. The first attempt collapsed because the branch frame wasn’t strong enough. The second try succeeded!

Then we used it to bake. This was pizza the first night. 

The mud hadn’t dried completely and it didn’t seem to get hot enough. The second night, after the oven had dried an entire day and a fire burned inside for hours, a friend cooked a large piece of pork in the oven and it turned out very well! Here are some more oven photos:

You may have noticed our fancy canvas tent in some of the photos. Our family got even more invested in the Society for Creative Anachronism by attending another Pennsic event and buying a replica medieval tent (used, of course! We’re still on a pretty tight budget around here.). In fact, we were there at Pennsic for almost the whole two weeks this year, excluding this working mama who was only there a few days. Fiercely learned about the mud stoves there, and the kids did theater, various crafts, and became newspaper-shilling “urchins” during their time there. It really is an exceptional event with intriguing people. It is hard to describe, though I have heard it called a hybrid of a renaissance fair and Woodstock. I sometimes call it a family camp/medieval reenactment. I hope to go for longer next year. 

Other highlights of August were that Mr. Fantastic and kids went to Lake George, we watched the eclipse (about 80% of the sun was covered) in Philadelphia, and I went to Ohio as I wrote on a previous entry. And the seasons turn, August becomes September, and we are on the verge of autumn as I write. What will happen next?

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Columbus, Ohio August 2017

Columbus, Ohio is the state capital and home of Ohio State University.  I went to OSU and I have friends in Columbus. We used to go hiking and camping and canoeing and all when I lived there and it was so much fun. It had been too long, so we got together. We met a few minutes drive from downtown at the sweet home of S (photo above is her garden) near Highbanks metro park that runs next to the Olentangy river. I went running  in that park after my drive to Columbus and I saw deer, many birds, and the Olentangy, which is designated a State Scenic River. I was amazed by the metro park infrastructure, just as I am when I go to northeast Ohio where my parents live. Ohio really has a lot of natural beauty and preserved lands- they have even reintroduced bison at a Columbus area park! And everything is so close to the city. 
We went canoeing and kayaking on the Big Darby Creek. We used excellent kayaks from Olentangy Paddle, run by the wonderful Lisa, who is a part of the Columbus crowd I love. Thank you!! The Big Darby Creek has, I believe, 17 miles of protected riverway and I can tell you it was sublimely beautiful that day. 

The next day we went hiking at Shale Hollow Park. Beautiful! And there are concretions! These strange rock spheres were all over the place at Shale Hollow. 

There was a nice education center on the 200-ish acre preserve, and paths that took us through the small ravine with a lovely creek next to shale walls, and out into a meadow full of wildflowers.

It was a beautiful weekend full of memories and catching up and re-living our 20’s, which just don’t seem that long ago. I enjoyed getting to know rivers and fields and creeks and hills in Ohio with this amazing group of people back in the day and it was just as much fun exploring again. I don’t plan to wait so long until next time to return to Ohio and my friends!

 A couple more shots of S’s back yard. The path bricks are from historic Ohio brick kilns!

Ohio, July 2017

I estimate I have made this trip about 50 times, roughly thrice a year since Fiercely was born, give or take. That’s a lot of miles!! Each trip has memorable and forgettable parts of course. We took a different route this time, a welcome change from the way I usually get there. I’m still not happy about having to drive at all after literally going around the planet with almost no driving, but we always have a good time once we are there. This time, we saw some Amish areas, did some Jazzercise, went packrafting, and had a garage sale and a surprise party. 

As for getting there, we took the turnpike, NOT recommended since it costs close to $40 and drivers are subjected to overpriced gas and food in the service plazas the whole way across Pennsylvania. On the positive side, it did lead us to some nice country roads as we meandered north and east after entering the Buckeye State. One was Middlefield, 4th largest Amish settlement in the world, according to the sign we passed. Horses and buggies sharing the road, laundry on the line, houses without electric wires, more buggies in driveways, and miles of pasture and cultivated fields. We saw plenty of non-Amish Ohioans on riding mowers on this sunny July day as we ambled along. We saw a lot of gardens bursting with flowers and vegetables. July is such a beautiful time of year in rural Ohio. 

This buggy was parked behind me at a store!

One morning, we joined my about-to-turn 76 year old mom at Jazzercise. This was a stark contrast to a quiet, contemplative yoga class I had taken a day or two earlier. Thumping pop music, relentless Midwest cheerfulness, bright and optimistic faces from our leader and us, sweating in the little Knights of Columbus building on Mentor Avenue. Here we are, three generations in spandex and sneakers.

Then we were back at the suburban subdivision. The heyday of the neighborhood garage sale seems to have passed for Concord Township, at least in my parent’s area. There weren’t as many sales or customers as in previous years, according to my Dad. We did, however, get to haul out a lot of stuff to the driveway and wear gorilla suits with the neighbor kid. Dang-can’t find the photo! Maybe later…

The surprise party turned into a reverse surprise party! Family dynamics being what they are, it happened that the object of the party had to be informed to make the timing work out and to keep the main party planner happy. There were still many surprises such as a homemade tiramisu cake and some friends who stopped by. And we got this family photo-so rare for us all to be together- my parents, siblings, and kids. Yes, I have the only grandkids unless you count pets!

So many parks! Hoping to go kayaking and packrafting with my brother, we drove back to Middlefield area to Headwater Park where there are free kayaks but no swimming. We passed at least three other parks on our way to Headwater. On this sunny July Sunday it was packed with a long waiting list so we headed to Fairport Harbor where we could take turns on Jonathan’s two packrafts and also swim and play at the beach. Kayaks there were also unavailable with so many people enjoying the beach that day. We took turns and enjoyed Lake Erie, watching the other kayaks, a sailboat or two, and the lovely sky. 

Bike trip part 3

Technically the biking part was over, but we had more traveling to do since we had to cross NY state to get home. We Fantastic 6, our bikes, plus dog Pippin (with wildflowers above!) rumbled and rambled in our overflowing car across upstate NY to Ithaca for a few days. It was all back roads of fields and forests until we reached ‘gorges’ Ithaca. 

We found a roadside ice cream place, below:


And we hung out downtown: that’s a mural on a parking garage, and the kids at the awesome Ithaca library:

And we spent time at the cabin and our property there, too:

Eventually it was time to pack us all back into the car and head home until next time!

Bike trip June 2017, part 2

Lockport

More narrow historic locks to the left, wider modern locks to the right

We had to see the famous “Flight of Five” locks for which this town is famous. We had learned a lot about locks and even stayed in a lock house on our last trip, and I find the system of transportation interesting. The Lockport locks were actually in use, the historic five alongside the newer locks, and we watched a tourist vessel go through the modern side. It was so cool to see the locks operate as we remembered walking in the dry lock spaces on the disused C&O canal. We also had seen historic, rather narrow locks operating in Carcassonne, France when we were there last year. Those seemed to be for tourists as well. We heard that Lockport does host some commercial boats, I think it was under 20 per year and I could not find details, but I’m impressed that locks have any modern commercial uses after becoming obsolete at least 70 years ago with the rise of railroads and highways. 
Buffalo

We biked into the city from the east along the Niagara river. The path was right next to the water for a while near the city borders. We could see Lake Erie. We were briefly on Unity Island, from which we could throw a stone into Canadian waters if we chose. We were near several bridges into Canada, and this old iron bridge (below) on the island. It was a nice place with fields and wildflowers, but unfortunately the path was closed so we had to go through a more trafficy urban area. The Buffalo neighborhood called Allentown had a colorful progressive vibe and was full of unique older houses with varied architectural styles. We stayed in a large apartment there for the night. We walked around and had a nice dinner at a Mexican bar/restaurant. Mr. Fantastic and the Fantastic dog set out on their own and found a dog park and an open mike comedy place which allowed Dogtastic to sit on Mr’s lap! 

Niagara Falls

We packed up the next day and headed to Niagara Falls. The cars were loaded with 12 bikes, 12 people, and a dog!

We stopped by the park next to the rapids upstream from the falls. Then we were there in the thick of it. I wasn’t excited to be heading to the tourist frenzy, but I was resigned to the plan. And I have to say, as uncomfortable as I am with large-scale, expensive tourist experiences, I concede that the Maid of the Mist was worth it. I have to report that it cost my family $95, or more than our daily budget in Thailand, for the 20-minute experience, but it was really neat. I’m particularly happy with my photos of the Falls from the boat.

And here are some from up top above the boat launch area:

After the boat ride, you can walk up these stairs (below) next to the Falls. I was mistaken in thinking 1.) we were walking back up all the way because 2.) we could and 3.) removing my raincoat because I was 4.)thinking it couldn’t be that wet. I got soaked and really couldn’t appreciate this view due to much spray and wet glasses! And then we took the elevator up.

The kids loved their raincoats and inflating them in the wind!

Erie Canal and Niagara Falls bike trip, June, 2017, part 1

It was fifteen miles on the Erie Canal, and then another fifteen, and another and so on with that old folk song ringing pleasantly in our ears (Pete Seeger version on link). The kids actually sang it after the first fifteen miles every day and we didn’t mind a bit! 

This trip was another dual family, 12 bike production by ourselves and the Wonderful family, with whom we have taken several similar trips over the years, eight trips over the past ten years to be exact. The kids have become more competent in biking as they age, though schedules have become more complex, so there was a late change to the schedule and I was not able to join in on the first few days. The group did the Erie Canalway Trail roughly from Lyons to Buffalo, NY, and then spent a morning at the US side of Niagara Falls. We were reluctant to do as much camping as previously due to one of the group becoming very ill with a tick-born disease on our last trip in 2015. We arranged to stay with a family friend east of Rochester, Red Rocks campground in Holley, a hotel in Lockport, and a rental apartment in Buffalo. It was about 125 miles biking in total. From Buffalo, we drove to Niagara for a trip to the Falls then parted ways.  My family went to Ithaca, NY and stayed at our cabin a couple of nights before heading back home. Below: roadside scenery and our bikes at the convention room at the hotel:

My story I was set to fly to Buffalo but it was not to be. After several delays in the terminal and out on the runway, my flight was cancelled. I was offered a flight that left almost 24 hours later-what?!-but was interested in making the 5- hour drive instead. With a few other passengers, I explored getting a taxi but things were not looking good. In the end, in another happy serendipitous travel event, I arrived in Buffalo via an all-nighter road trip in a rental car with a lovely young woman who was extremely motivated and willing to share driving and expenses. We were quoted by phone $600 (!!!?)from a popular rental company and after we recovered from that idea, we took a shuttle to a rental place and left with the vehicle for less than 1/3 that price. The whole experience made me feel great about trusting strangers and about the unexpected during travel and about humanity in general. And, how often does being over 40 feel like such an asset? It helped us get a better price for sure. Here we are just after we got the car:

Thank you, ML! I would not have done that all-night drive on my own! And, though a little sleep deprived and bedraggled, I returned the car and joined the gang. It was beautiful weather and there were many bridges and other things to see as we biked along. Check out the old swing bridge in the river below.

About this trail. It was not perfect, but there were excellent stretches. The locks were great, and there were some very nice parks and small historic towns along the way. On the downside, some stretches are not paved, there were often headwinds, we went on narrow shoulders on fairly busy roads at times, and signs such as the one above were rare so one could easily lose the trail. Below: enjoying a park east of Tonawanda, biking on a paved trail, bird sculptures on the Niagara River Corridor:The trail on Unity Island was closed for maintenance and so we had to bike through parts of industrial Buffalo. We used cellphones to navigate; in fact I wouldn’t recommend going on this trail without one. Overall, compared to the C&O trail we biked in 2015, the scenery was just as wonderful, it was less crowded, and many paths were better (more pavement, no large mud puddles) but the trailside amenities (campsites, signage) were scant. There were many beautifully landscaped parks and open spaces on the Erie, unlike the more shady and secluded C&O. These trails are all free to use and require maintenance, for which I’m sure budgets are tight, so I won’t complain, however I did want to compare these two Canal trails we have used. More to come. Below: a bridge with a counterweight and strange shape, biking close to traffic, kids on the trail near Buffalo city limits:

Leaving Chennai, March 2017

I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror at the Frankfurt airport and saw the marks of India. I was wearing a brightly printed cotton tunic and an equally colorful shirt with a clashing pattern. The rainbow of fabrics continued on my woven, mirrored, camel motif purse slung over one shoulder. My little backpack was on my shoulders-I had packed most things into a woven plastic rice bag and sent it with checked baggage. I had a string bracelet on my wrist from the Shiva temple- four small beads and some sort of wrinkled nut. There was a red dot and a bindi on my forehead, my hair had a visible pink tint from playing Holi, and most of my fingernails still had a fuschia Holi stain. I had bags under my eyes and looked dazed from sleep deprivation and jet lag after leaving Chennai at 1:50am local time and a ten- hour flight here to Frankfurt, six hours behind. On top of all that, I was still dressed for 90 degree Chennai weather, but it was rainy and 50- something in Germany. I had a four-hour layover and was hoping for a nap. 

Thank you, sleepinginairports.net.  I took advantage of the free wifi at the Frankfurt airport and consulted this site from the comfort of a business lounge easy chair, accessible to any shmuck like me despite clearly not being a business traveler. With help from the site I located a quiet corner with a padded bench. I set an alarm, wrapped a scarf around my eyes as a sleep mask, used my backpack as a pillow and another scarf as a blanket, and settled down. 

Before I knew it (and luckily, because the volume was off on my alarm) I woke up and had about a half hour to get to my gate. Then I was boarding a thinly occupied cabin headed to Philadelphia. I’m not sure why the flights between Philly and Frankfurt were so empty, or how they can cover costs with so few passengers, but I was glad to stretch out on about four seats and enjoy the pillows, blankets, and on-demand movies as I had done on my flight out two weeks earlier. The 8-hour flight from Chennai had been packed full. And so I went, over the ocean, between vacation and non-vacation, suspended between my personal worlds and between earth and sky. Getting back to the family, work, grocery shopping, and the like would come soon but for now I was still at leisure, floating westward and back to ordinary life. I would consider all I had seen and done and the lovely long friendship I have had with MB. I would return to my family and to writing when I could. And to planning the next trip!