Archive for the 'travel' Category


Happy 2018!

So after a great start to 2017, I totally fell off the wagon—both for blogging and for canning. The canning challenges for the second half of 2017 just didn’t inspire me, so I let those slide and did canning projects that interested me (e.g., peach-sriracha jam, pickled scapes, cranberry-raspberry jam).

In August we had reunions with two of the kids (and their families) with whom my daughter had become good friends at the CISV Village she attended in July 2016—one from Canada and one from Italy. We plan to see the Canadian next August, too, and we just found out that one of the kids from the Philippines delegation will be on the East Coast in June or July, so we hope to see her too.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but one goal I do have for this year is to do more sewing. To do that, I need to set up a sewing space that isn’t a small table shoved against the wall next to the washing machine in the basement laundry room. But with encouragement from a friend who’s done a fair amount of awesome sewing herself, I hope to tackle zippers for the first time. Wish me luck!

Last week we drove out to Illinois to visit my parents. They live just outside St. Louis, so every visit to their neck of the woods includes a day at the amazing City Museum. It’s an art-installation-meets-all-ages-playground sort of place.

There are climbing structures (concrete, wood, and rebar figure heavily in the construction), both inside and outside:

The outside courtyard.

The outside courtyard.

This connects to a giant, human-sized Habitrail mounted on the ceiling.

This connects to a giant, human-sized Habitrail mounted on the ceiling.

There are actually two gutted airplanes on towers on the courtyard—and one gutted school bus hanging over the edge of the ten-story roof!

There are actually two gutted airplanes on towers on the courtyard—and one gutted school bus hanging over the edge of the ten-story roof!

Heading up to an airplane wing. (Yes, you get to walk on a real airplane wing!)

Heading up to an airplane wing. (Yes, you get to walk on a real airplane wing!)

The climbing (inside and outside) is huge fun! Especially if you wear knee pads. (I am not kidding. You can buy a cheapo-but-adequate pair in the gift shop. Save your knees for only $4!)

There are also extensive “caves” (made of concrete) in the back of the first floor—most tunnels require crawling and a few are too small for more adults. (In other words, they’re a claustraphobic’s nightmare.) I didn’t take photos there because it’s really hard to capture images in a super dark place. (We usually bring headlamps when we come here, but this time we forgot.)

But I did photograph the slides! There are TONS of them at City Museum. Several are outside, like this one:

Super-fast twisty slide!

Super-fast twisty slide!

And there’s even a ten-story slide! It spans the full height of the building, which used to be a shoe factory. This slide was one of the chutes used to send stuff from the top floor down to the bottom. It’s not the fastest ride, but it’s TEN STORIES LONG so that makes it pretty cool.

Entrance to the ten-story slide!

Entrance to the ten-story slide!

There are lots of other cool things to see and do there:

It's a Ring of Death for running humans!

It’s a Ring of Death for running humans!

Funky chairs/stools/rockers that roll around. Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down!

Funky chairs/stools/rockers that roll around. Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down!

No introduction necessary.

No introduction necessary.

Now THAT'S some good alliteration.

Now THAT’S some good alliteration.

One of my favorite areas is the architectural museum. It’s of less interest to the rest of my family, so I wander through there on my own when I need a break from all the climbing.

In this section are facades and decorative elements from old buildings that were torn down in the Midwest. In some cases, the demolition crews unofficially salvaged some of the pieces; in others, official preservation efforts were made (one Ohio school district found a home for all this stuff BEFORE tearing down an old building, for example). Most of the stuff is from the Chicago School of Architecture (lots of Louis Sullivan here) and the Prairie School (e.g., George Grant Elmslie).

Just a sampling of the collection.

Just a sampling of the collection.

City Museum is an extraordinary place. St. Louis has a lot of neat stuff going on (top of the Arch, anyone?). But if you have only a few hours in the city and can visit just one place, I think it should be this one.


Bike lanes

When I was in college and grad school, I rode my bike all over campus. It was fairly easy to do so in those places: there were some bike lanes, there wasn’t a lot of car traffic on campus, and there wasn’t much anti-bicyclist sentiment.

When I lived in Eugene, Oregon, I rode my bike all over town. It was supremely easy to do there. Eugene is criss-crossed with bike lanes, which bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians respect. Eugene is also home to the Center for Appropriate Transport, an awesome organization that promotes human-powered transportation. I bought my human-powered bicycle lights (which I love) there.

Since I moved to the bike-unfriendly Mid-Atlantic, I haven’t done much riding. I’ve enjoyed taking Sylvia to school via bike, but that ride doesn’t involve navigating any busy roads. The thought of riding on local highways without bike lanes and with drivers who are at best ignorant about bicycling and at worst hostile to it is one that fills me with dread.

When we were in the Netherlands in April, I saw people riding bikes all over the place. We borrowed bikes from relatives a few times and did some riding ourselves (with Sylvia riding like all Dutch passengers do: sitting on the luggage rack in back and holding on to the biker—and with no one wearing helmets). I loved it. Only the realization that I’d never be able to use them stopped me from buying some cool grocery-sized saddles bags for my bike. (I did, however, get a new bell for my bike. Sylvia got one for hers, too. She was very adamant that we get matching bells.)

Our Dutch relatives were surprised to learn how difficult safe bicycling can be in most U.S. cities. Perhaps I should send them this video. Then they’d understand.



Life update

Watching: A corgi in a swing. Yes, that’s what I said.

Chuckling over: The best of Craigslist. One of my favorites is “Looking for Rabbi Versed in DARK TALMUDIC ARTS to create GOLEM.”

Being impressed by: These recipe redesigns. The use of illustrations as instructions is a recipe is nothing new (for example, Molly Katzen does it in her awesome cookbooks for preschoolers, Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes” and Salad People and More Real Recipes), but the designs here are especially nice.

Hacking:…my ramen.

Wishing: I had an extra $300 lying around. I think this project is awesome, and I really love the design of this chair.

Getting back from: The Netherlands. We were there for nearly two weeks and returned a few days ago. Once the jet lag fully wears off and I get my act together, details and photos will be forthcoming.


A weekend in NYC, part 2

Although we spent most of our NYC weekend outside, we did partake of one iconic NYC activity that took place indoors.


nycticket.jpgIt started with this (thanks to our NYC friend, whose professional connections enabled her to get free tickets for both our families)…


nycplaybill.jpg…and included this. The show was technically amazing (stunning sets! Bert walking on the ceiling! Mary Poppins flying through the air!), though clearly crafted for people who already knew the movie.*


nycseats.jpgFree tickets to a great show is pretty amazing…but wait, it gets better! Jan actually knew someone in the cast, a friend from high school with whom he’d reconnected (via Facebook, natch) a year or two ago. She’d mentioned a while back that he should tell her if we were ever going to see a show, because she could show us around afterward. So we took her up on her offer! And here’s the view from THE STAGE of the New Amsterdam theater.


nycset.jpgAnd that stunning set I mentioned? Here’s a glimpse of part of it, along with the wings. The theater doesn’t actually have a lot of backstage space, because NYC real estate is so pricey. Horizontal real estate, that is–there’s plenty of room if you go up. So some of the set pieces were actually in the air, four stories up. Thank goodness for strong ropes!


*I’ve seen the movie a gazillion times, and I had a bit of trouble following this show’s narrative; I doubt if someone unfamiliar with Mary Poppins could understand the show at all. Still, it was fun to see, and I’d recommend it nonetheless. I like many of the ways in which this show deviated from the movie–e.g., by making Mary Poppins a bit crankier and less “sweeter” (a depiction more in keeping with the character in the books), and by having the kids start out as true brats (thus giving them a story arc rather than having them be mere observers to events).


A weekend in NYC, part 1

The three of us spent the first weekend of October in New York City. My brother and Jan’s brother both live there, as does one of my oldest friends (we’ve known each other since high school), who let us stay in her apartment while she and her family stayed with her parents a few floors up in the same building. Not only is her place huge by NYC standards (two bedrooms and free parking in the attached garage), but it’s just one subway stop from Grand Central, right across the East River from Midtown. Not having to deal with driving around and parking in Manhattan = lovely.

Here’s the view from the park right next to her building, in the morning…


nycnightskyline.jpg…and at night.


nycsundaymorning.jpgWe weren’t in Serious Tourist Mode this weekend, preferring to focus on hanging out with our families and friends. The weather was fabulous–we lucked out in that our visit took place during the two-day lull in NYC’s heavy rainstorms–so we spent a lot of time outside.

In addition to playing in the park near my friend’s apartment (a park which had some of the coolest playground equipment I’ve ever seen–climbing! spinning! what fun!), we walked around the city a bit. I am especially fond of being in NYC before 10 a.m. or so on weekend mornings, when everything is quiet and it seems that the city has just gone to bed.


nycalice.jpgWe spent pretty much all of Sunday in Central Park, a place so huge and varied that even an entire day isn’t time to begin to explore it. We’d been there before, though–and Jan grew up in the NYC area and knows the park pretty well–so we knew which parts we wanted to visit. Sylvia wanted to visit the “sisters and brothers playground” (jump to 2:26), and then we hung out at the Central Park Zoo with our friends. After they went home (naptime for their kids), the three of us headed to the Alice in Wonderland statue.

What an amazing sculpture! I love seeing which parts have been made shiny by the touches of countless little hands. And I love seeing children crawl and climb all of it–totally in keeping with the sculptor’s intent. We spent a good half our there ourselves. The only thing that persuaded Sylvia to leave…


nyccarousel.jpg…was the promise of a ride on the Central Park carousel. This thing is over 100 years old and features handcarved wooden horses. It was originally set up in Coney Island was but moved to a covered pavilion in Central Park a few decades ago. It’s also huge, has a real calliope inside, and offers the longest carousel ride I’ve ever experienced: for two bucks, you get to go around (at a good clip, too) for about seven minutes!



Earlier month I spent a long weekend in Pigeon Forge, Tennesse, with four other friends. The five of us have known each other since our college days and have managed to keep in regular contact over the years. We live in different parts of the country now and don’t get to see each other much, so we decided to plan a mini-vacation together. We chose Pigeon Forge because we can all drive to it (and it’s within very easy driving distance of one friend who has serious health issues), it’s fairly inexpensive (four nights in a pretty nice cabin/house cost us each under $150), and there are a lot of different things to do in the area . . . such as purchase bumper stickers:

bumperstickersftf.jpgI’m not sure what to say when I see something like this. Whenever I’ve visited the South I’ve always been amazed by the proliferation of Confederate-themed signs, monuments, tourist sites, whatever in that region. (I know, I know–the South is about much more than reminiscing about the Confederacy. But those elements are often the most attention grabbing.) Regional heritage is all fine and dandy, but when it takes the form of “Every city in every southern state should have a Confederate Avenue” or “Welcome to Dixie–If you don’t like our flag, leave” it seems less a question of heritage than hate, given that the Confederate flag holds such negative connotations for a huge segment of the population. There’s a reason nonwhites don’t decorate their homes and cars with this decor.


This and that

We had an epic leaf-fall this autumn. Or maybe it just seemed epic because I did nearly all of the raking and bagging myself. Where we live, yard waste is picked up only eight times a year (four Saturday mornings in the fall, and four Saturday mornings in the spring). That’s it. Anything that isn’t out by the curb on those days has to go out with the regular trash, straight to the landfill.

(I have contacted my township administration about this, suggesting that perhaps they could arrange for once-monthly pickups year round. I was told that “people won’t want to save their yard waste for those pickups,” and when I pointed out that they would if putting it in the trash cost them more money, I was told that this just wasn’t an option. And then, in her next breath, the woman I spoke with said, “Yeah, the township has been fined by the county for putting too much green material into the country landfill.” Grrrr.)

In our backyard, we have a three-bin composter that we built ourselves shortly after we bought this house. Kitchen scraps and yard waste go in there, but it can hold only so much leaf material. So once we fill the bins we rake and bag the rest and send it off to the county’s composting facility.

We had a lot of leaves. A lot. This is what our curb looked on four Saturday mornings this fall.


Fortunately we got all the leaves up before winter weather arrived. We got our first big snow last weekend, and because it started while we were at my mother-in-law’s place (about three hours away, just north of NYC), we ended up driving home in it. We had clear sailing the first half of our trip, but once the snow started around Newark International Airport (which is always fun to drive past, because the NJ Turnpike runs parallel to the landing runway, and we usually see at least one plane land), we had to slow down considerably.

The rest of the way home, the roads were a mess. Here’s an iPhone photo snapped through our front windshield as we drove on the PA Turnpike.


At some points, the roads were so deserted (and visibility so poor) that we couldn’t see any other cars around us in any direction.

We made it home safely, though. Just in time to unload the car and enjoy some homemade hot chocolate!


Life update

Geeking out: With “The DM of the Ring,” the Lord of the Rings trilogy imagined as a D&D campaign.

Reading: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. Finally. What an amazing book. He’s one of those writers who can make interesting the sort of information that is usually quite dull to read. Some of his turns of phrase are just amazing.

Frolicking: Through the City Museum of St. Louis, which is quite possibly the coolest place I have ever visited. Seriously. It’s sort of a cross between a four-story walk-through, interactive art installation and a playground (in the literal sense–monkey bars, slides, ball pits, and all) for grownups. It’s very difficult to describe. Here’s one picture I took of the outside area:


Yes, you can climb through/over/under all those tubes/ladders/tunnels, even into that gutted airplane over there. And yes, you are at times four stories up. (While Jan was wriggling through a wire-coil tunnel near the apex of the structure, his wallet fell out of his pocket when he was upside down. Fortunately, it landed on a table three stories below him, and a very kind person there cleaned up the debris field of credit cards and IDs and waited for Jan to get down there.)

We happened to visit this place while visiting my parents (who live in the Illinois part of the St. Louis area) for a few days. But if I didn’t have family in the area, I would actually consider a trip out there anyway. This place alone merits a trip to St. Louis–it is that cool.


Home again, home again, jiggity jig

I last posted here about three weeks ago, shortly before we headed out of town and up to Vermont for our annual two-week stay in a little cabin next to a little lake. We got home yesterday afternoon, unloaded the car (which resulted in the living room looking like a laundromat exploded in the middle of it), and spent the evening settling back into being home. And recovering from the drive, too. In an attempt to avoid the hell known as The New Jersey Turnpike on the Weekend, we decided to take a slightly longer (in miles, but not usually in time) and decidedly more scenic route through the charmingly named Delaware Water Gap. Unfortunately, one construction zones and several accident sites delayed us considerably.

During our vacation, I was completely Internet-free. The cottage has a (glacially slow) dial-up connection that I’ve used in past years, but crawling the Internet when you’re used to surfing it Point Break style is just too painful. So this year I opted to stay away from it entirely while in Vermont. This also served as an experiment of sorts to see what it would be like to avoid the constantly flowing river of information in which I usually dip my toes a few times daily. The result? Well, I didn’t go insane. So that’s a good sign.

Ultimately I found that I didn’t really miss the Internet–not in the short term, at least. I’m glad to have it in my life and happy it’s here to help me keep in touch with old friends, meet new friends, learn new things, and generally keep my brain from turning into mush. But the Internet hasn’t always been around, and sometimes it’s nice to step back from it and pay more attention to what’s going on around you. And when what’s going on around you is Vermont in August, well, then paying attention to it isn’t really that hard.

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