Chicago, May 2014, part 3

So we said goodbye to, as the Blues Brothers called it, Sweet Home Chicago.  We were headed South and East to the capital city of The Buckeye State – Columbus, Ohio.

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pit stop and beautiful sunset between Chicago and Columbus

Mr. Fantastic and I met in Columbus at Ohio State back in the day, and we still have some friends here.  We surfed our fourth couch in as many nights and stayed in the crafty, kitschy paradise of Seth, Olivia and their son Joban.

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clockwise from bottom left: our hosts in caricature, purple wall with artwork, salt-n-pepper shaker collection, our kids playing with Joban’s collection of vintage toys

The next day, we went to Olivia’s store, Wholly Craft, wow!  It is a colorful, dreamy shop of handmade items, with a basement workshop space.  We all loved it and got to shopping and crafting immediately.

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Next, we spent some time at the Center of Science and Industry, or COSI.  This is a large science center in downtown Columbus that not only accepted our reciprocal membership but gave us two tickets to their special exhibit on Sherlock Holmes.  Fiercely and Cleverly used the tickets and said the exhibit was good, they solved a crime and also saw some props from the BBC series, to which Fiercely and I are addicted.  The rest of us looked at the other exhibits.

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clockwise from top left: Fiercely out front, a giant wire skeleton, Really trying out a space toilet, the twins getting mesmerized by a rotating disk  

There is a cool restaurant in Columbus worth mentioning – The Spaghetti Warehouse.  It appears to be a chain but a small one – 15 total locations with 4 in Ohio and 5 in Texas, go figure.  Anyway, we used to frequent the one in Philadelphia until it sadly and suddenly closed.  The place is full of antique paraphernalia in a large former industrial space.  Not too expensive or formal, big enough for the kids to run around when they were smaller, and cool old stuff like a trolley car, giant posters and chandeliers, bed frames, and statues to look at.

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We stopped there to eat before heading back north to the grandparents’.  Above is the outside of the building, trolley car inside, and (left) the kids by a red mill wheel inside.  Back in Northeast Ohio, we spent our final night for this trip in a hotel near my parents’ house.  My Dad was still recuperating so we visited but slept elsewhere.  Our first hotel of the trip!  Lucky for us, prices are friendlier than in Chicago and Columbus.  We stayed here in one room with 2 double beds and a pull-out couch, it was great, and it had an indoor pool as we had hoped.  We took advantage of the pool and gym, had breakfast the next day with the grandparents, and headed back home.  We discussed this crazy long trip and the ups and downs as we again crossed the long state of Pennsylvania.  The kite flying, Detroit, Columbus, we pondered all of it as we returned with the sun behind us and our lives, guinea pigs and all, waiting back at home as Harry Potter played in the background.


Midsommar, 2014 tripping solo

Um, I’ll finish Chicago soon, I promise.  For now, due to an unfortunate work schedule – but someone has to work around here, right? – Mr. Fantastic and kids are at this very moment at The Clearwater Festival while yours truly is not.  Due to a little quirk in my work schedule, I had today off with the other five Fantastics gone and, friends, this is a rare event!  Did your correspondent do vital chores like laundry and cleaning out the guinea pig cage? Heck, no!

First a word about Clearwater.  It is an organization with a wonderful history.  Beloved musician and activist Pete Seeger, who passed away at 94 this past January, wanted to bring attention to the poor water quality in the Hudson River by building and sailing a majestic replica of a 19th century sloop there.  This was done in 1969 and the organization has grown to include educational sailboat trips and an annual music festival.  Despite Mr Fantastic’s preference to punk over folk music, we went to a couple of these when Fiercely was little.  It is a great place for kids.  The volunteer program is excellent – for 4 hrs/day, you can camp on the festival grounds, all meals are provided, and you even get a t-shirt!  So, that is the scene this weekend with a couple of other local families and without Mrs. Fantastic.  Cue the violins…

Except!  It was a beautiful day today, and with no pressing obligations (I have a remarkable ability to ignore housework), I decided to bike around Philadelphia.  I found myself getting a little taste of Sweden on this Midsummer’s Day, along with the type of freedom usually found among (and wasted by) childless younger folks.

I biked around West Philadelphia and found myself unexpectedly at the Clark Park Festival.  There were vendors and music, and I had an awesome $2 taco and the last-of-the-season organic strawberries while sitting on the orange chairs there.  Then I headed onthe Grey’s Ferry Bridge and checked out the skyline.

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A little bike trail beckoned and I found myself in a hidden park next to the hidden river.


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Schuylkill apparently means ‘hidden river’ in Dutch, so named because lush vegetation hid the waterway from early explorers.  Grey’s Ferry Crescent is a park there under the bridge and on the banks of the Schuylkill River. I biked the whole thing and it was cute, surprisingly clean and green near so much urban atmosphere.

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There were people fishing, wildflowers, and a skateboard park (bottom left, under bridge).

I especially liked this graffiti.

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I decided to aim for FDR park in South Philly.  I had been there once many years ago and thought it a worthy destination.  I wasn’t quite sure how to get there, which ma

IMG_2536de for a bit of an adventure.  I found myself on this road right next to the freeway —>!!  I saw a lot of row houses, took a selfie or two, and just kept aiming for Broad Street south of Packard.  I eventually made my way there.


The park is large and has a golf course, two lakes, and, randomly, the American Swedish Historical Museum.  It was their Midsommar Festival today of course!!  There were many people bustling about, some in costume, as they prepared for the maypole dancing, etc.  I checked out the many exhibits and their splendid building.

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Of course, there were other things to see in the park as well: the lake, a historic gazebo, lots of outdoor parties, two guys with horses, some weird food stands including a bucket of fish, more skateboarders under a graffiti’d bridge.

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Then it was back north through the Point Breeze neighborhood where a friend of mine lives.  Kermit’s Bakery for mushroom hot pockets and Breezy’s cafe (right next to Engine Co. 24) for a milkshake – yes!!  And my bike looked right at home next to Kermit’s delivery bikes.

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What a great day.  Philly block parties were everywhere, the sky was blue, and I rode through a sprinkler, too!  A bunch more photos of a beautiful day:

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Chicago, May 2014, Part 2

Chicago day 2

Where did we wake up?  Wait… where did we sleep??  Oh, just the historic Ward Seyfarth House in Blue Island, about 15 miles south of the city.  Yes… unbelievable.  Our friends in Grand Rapids had a connection – Tina actually grew up in this house!  Her parents were out of town and agreed we could stay there, we got the address and a key, and BAM!  We found ourselves in the gracious entryway of Ward and Florence Seyfarth’s custom designed 1924 crib, one of the Chicago area’s 30 most beautiful homes per Chicago Magazine.  Sweet!

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That’s me, top left, pleased to be next to that beautiful doorway.  If you look closer, you can see a pizza box at my feet because we forbade the kids to eat inside the house and they had to eat there on the stoop! My strategy was to limit their time inside the house to sleeping, figuring they could not do much damage while unconscious.  I was terrified of damaging any objects and/or the graciousness of our absent hosts!  Anyhow, there is the entryway and some of the first floor.  The tiled floors were so pretty, as was the light coming in through the large front windows.  We tried to erase any traces of our having been there, save for a thank you note, and we headed back into Chicago.

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We went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and the adjacent park.  The park was colorful with  sunshine, people, dogs, and a farmer’s market.  I expected little from the Lincoln Park Zoo since the admission was free, but was blown away by the landscaping, the cleanliness, and all of the animals.  We did a quick tour since we planned to meet Uncle Mike for breakfast.  There was a farmer’s market in the park that day as well.  Someone was selling parasols which were too pretty not to photograph.

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Cheesiness alert:  I got the big girls to pose by the ‘Siblings” statue and hold hands by the title plaque!  I will have to remind them of the sibling love next time they are fighting.

Next we went to The Field Museum.  We have a sweet reciprocal membership that we used here.  We could have spent much longer here but our time was limited.  We decided to check out the Egyptian exhibit, which was very good.

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Check out the diorama with Truly’s hand for perspective! There were about six of these depicting the complicated yet remarkably popular process of mummification.  According to the exhibit, it started with the ruling class and spread to the masses, so there were many jobs and workshops in the industry.  Also – the mold-o-rama! This was a – I would guess – 1960′s era novelty machine that allowed us to choose a plastic dinosaur toy and watch it be made in front of our fascinated eyes.

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Sadly, it was time to head out of Chi-town.  We had more visits to make and limited time. So, across the bridge we went but I was already making plans for the next visit.  I really would like to walk around downtown, see Wrigley Field, and check out the Museum of Science and Industry.  We put in another Harry Potter tape and went on our way.

Chicago, May 2014, part 1

Did we really drive to Chicago to fly kites with an octogenarian uncle?  Why, yes, we did!  We took six days and drove through 5 states and over 2,000 miles to fly kites on the banks of Lake Michigan in the Windy City with Uncle Mike.  We tacked on a couple of side trips along the way and, considering this trip came hot on the heels after Ohio and North Carolina, I believe we hit a family best of 17 days of traveling and over 4,000 miles on the car during 3 road trips in about 5 weeks.  And we parents managed to keep our jobs.  And most of our sanity. Whew!


Truly with a kite, Poppa’s Uncle Mike with Cleverly and his bike and kite string, beautiful Lake Michigan and the lovely Chicago skyline

Our first stop was Painesville, OH to see the grandparents.  Unfortunately, my Dad was in the hospital for unexpected surgery so we visited him there.  We entertained him with stories and kids antics and drawings on the whiteboard.  Happily, he went home later that day and is doing well.  We might have stayed, but he needed rest and quiet – not exactly what we would bring to him, and besides, we had kites to fly!  He understood, and we planned to see him on the way back.

Detroit and lunch with Uncle Paul

Next up was lunch with Poppa’s Uncle Paul.  We crossed the Michigan – or should I say Pure Michigan – border and headed for the Motor City.  We were early, we noticed a thrift store, so of course the thrift store found 6 new customers.  We scored an UNOPENED Harry Potter book on tape – the exact one we were listening to but we were missing several, ok more like half or more, of the 17 cassettes – for 25¢!!  That will go down in the legendary thrift scores to be discussed for years to come.


The restaurant Uncle Paul took us to is worth mentioning.  El Barzon has gourmet Italian AND gourmet Mexican food with cloth napkins, fancy glasses (3 spilled and 1 broken by us) and no kids menu.  I loved it!  It was located in a rough-looking neighborhood and had a gated, guarded parking lot.  Inside was an oasis with a waterfall and outdoor seating, and amazing food.  It reminded me of Honduras or Malawi in a way – such opulence surrounded by harsh urban conditions.

We did not see much of Detroit, unfortunately.  I am very interested, though, in the local phenomena of Motown Studio A, the thriving urban farming scene, Detroit underground music/art, and the access to Canada via the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel and also the Ambassador Bridge.  I wish we had had more time!

Grand Rapids, Michigan

But we were off to see some friends in Grand Rapids.  Every time I hear about this town, it is followed by an exclamation of what a nice small town it is.  I may be influenced by the spectacular weather and our friends – heck, the sketchy neighborhood in Detroit even looked pretty good that day- but it was really beautiful.  The architecture, the tree-lined blocks, the lack of corporate chain drug stores and fast food places downtown, and the public art all impressed me.  Residential streets were as neat as a pin, and also, the town has a proud connection to sculptor/mobilist Alexander Calder as it reminds you on street signs and manhole covers.  That’s the river and Calder’s La Grande Vitesse on the manhole cover below, which can be translated as “the great swiftness” or “the GRAND RAPIDS”!!!  The large, red Calder sculpture is a downtown centerpiece for the town and they are justifiably proud.

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We took a walk from their house to the downtown on a sunny day and found this great playground complete with pre-1990 (as in hardcore, industrial, dangerous, metal) playground equipment used in my childhood before that safety molded plastic crap overtook our playscapes and childhoods… but I digress!  We also saw this great mural, decorative peacocks on a downtown building, and a nice bench.  We spent less than 24 hours there and we were sorry to go, but we were trying to get to Chicago…

Benton Harbor/St Joseph, MI

How did we end up in The Riviera of the Midwest?  We were on the scenic route from Grand Rapids to Chicago, just looking for lunch and trying to catch glimpses of the Great Lake to our west.  These towns looked convenient and larger, like there might be more dining options, plus they are right next to each other and are on the lovely shores of Lake Michigan.  We noticed a lot of pedestrians, beautiful houses, and the Lake in the distance as we drew closer.  Then there were signs about foot traffic due to an unnamed event.  It soon became clear that we had happened upon this.  Well, the pageantry and drama of the 75th Senior-something- Golf blah blah blah were lost on us, however a concurrent event drew us like a magnet.  My friends, I give you… Naschair.

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Yes, we watched tricked-out office chairs propelled by backwards-facing contestants race towards a finish line decked out with an air-inflated arch and hay bales for safety.  The thrill of NASCHAIR!!! Those Michiganers sure are wild-n-crazy.  There were also two other notable attractions: an old Plymouth police car, dutifully documented to later share with my Dad the automobile enthusiast, and an old wooden swing perched on a hill for a thrill.  That’s a carousel building down by the lake, too!  We wanted to get to know Michigan’s riviera more, but Second City beckoned.

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Oh, that’s right, the destination for this trip.  Well, we made it.  We met Uncle Mike and followed the mildly eccentric 80+ year-old kite-flyer as he rode his bike through the city- not an easy task when you are driving a minivan.  He took us to a beautiful spot with excellent wind and we quickly had an airborne kite for each child.  There were a million fuzzy dandelions.  We had crossed a time zone and scored an extra hour!!  And it was my birthday!! What a present – an extra hour and all that blue sky, the lake, the kites – and it got even better!




I posted something on facebook about being in Chicago, then got a phone call from Sylvia Starlight.  I expected to hear ‘happy birthday’ but instead she said ‘where are you?’.  It turns out she, a fellow East Coast Mama and homeschooler, and family were in Chicago, too!  They were downtown, at a hotel with a pool!  Did we want to come and swim? Did we!  After we finished with the kites and made plans to see Uncle Mike in the morning, we headed into the downtown for a serendipitous play date.  I have no photos of the event, but much fun was had.  We were up way too late, and, hmmm, where were we going to stay?  We had been couch surfing thus far and I dreaded to pay for a hotel in the big city.  What did the Fantastics do to save sanity, obtain quality sleeping arrangements, and stay in a frugal budget?  Stay tuned, readers, the answer surprised me!




Undisclosed location, May 2014

“The realtor described it as a cross between ‘Sanford & Son’ and ‘The Godfather’” explained our hostess and the proprietress Lena.  I had to agree.  I was looking at their newly purchased, 1.5 acre, rather mysterious, former man-club oasis in the city.   I felt I had been let in on a secret- a very masculine, Italian-American secret where I had no business being, since I am a non-Italian female after all.  What an invite!  What a find!


Cleverly outside of clubhouse building, fruit trees

Lena and her partner Beuford were looking to urban-farm on a larger scale than the typical limits of a city backyard.  They cruised realty sites and Craigslist and at some point came upon this quirky jewel.  It seems there exists an Italian-born octogenarian named Angelo who had made the difficult decision to sell the garden/orchard/clubhouse/tomato sauce processing facility property he had owned and created over 50 years.  There were several tended plots and unique hand-built structures on the property, as well as water, electricity, and creative zoning code violations.  Lena and Beuford were intrigued.


Angelo is a dead ringer for Frank Sinatra, at least I thought so looking at a large, circa-1950′s photograph of him on the wall.  It is said that he constructed outbuildings from discarded materials and, shall we say, eschewed building codes.  I hope to get to meet him, which is a distinct possibiility.  It seems he does stop by socially and in addition, per the purchase agreement, he has the legal right to continue to make his annual 800 jars of tomato sauce there.  Bellissimo!


Inside the clubhouse and attached tomato sauce-making area. Square metal thing below crimson cabinets is a wood-fired oven for making pizza! Note the deer head and map of Italy!

For now I am just delighted to spend time at the location.  It is bordered by a large park on one side, a quiet residential neighborhood on another side, and a cemetery – a really quiet neighborhood one might say – on a third side.  Even better, we Fantastics were invited to garden on part of one of the large garden plots so we have begun gardening.  There are fruit trees, an outdoor party area, random machinery, a guy who rents space for his construction vehicles, and possibly a cat that came with the property.


workshop (top), another view of the clubhouse, garden plot, kids on the party patio area

Thanks Lena and Buford!!  Looking forward to gardening and great times in your little paradise!!

Chapel Hill, NC, May 2014

It starts happening somewhere in Maryland when you hear “y’all” in a non-sarcastic, non-politically correct kind of way.  And there is at first a mistakable accent, maybe it was on TV or you didn’t hear it right.  It soon becomes unmistakably a southern twang.  You’re still on the east coast, but it is no longer The East Coast.  Gas prices start getting lower.  Also, it starts feeling south, then southern, then you feel you are undoubtedly are in The South.  There are signs for pecans, Bojangles chicken and biscuits, and Virginia.  Once you turn off I-95 and head west on Rt. 85, there is no doubt at all, y’all.

We were off to see the Fabulous Family of Malawi fame.  Fiercely and I had visited them there, then all the kids and I went to see them when they moved to NC about a year ago. They were settled in Chapel Hill and ready to host us for a glorious long weekend.  All together there would be 9 kids, both Drs. Fabulous, a German au pair, and myself.  We lucked out with sunny and warm weather, good-natured kids, and thankfully no car trouble despite this being over 2,000 miles the kids + I put on the car in under 3 weeks with this trip and April’s trip to Ohio so close together.

Durham Museum of Life and Science


This place is over 85 acres, and in addition to the main science building includes wolves, bears, a butterfly house, and multiple outdoor play areas.  It is kind of like a small zoo and an interactive science museum in a large park.  We had been here a few years ago and we’ll likely go again.


Interactive video display – you could “catch” falling colored balls with your shadow on the screen!


Fiercely with a Fabulous twin heading into the insectarium

The weather was great, the kids were enthusiastic, from preschoolers to the teenagers everyone liked something.   There were a lot of things to climb on.

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Then there was a misty playground that was a lot of fun.

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And the butterfly house!

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Chapel Hill Arboretum

This is a part of the college campus in downtown Chapel Hill.  It is like a magical oasis of fields and trees, many of which were flowering.  The official name is the Coker Arboretum, and it is over 100 years old, started by the first Botany professor at the university, Dr Coker.  Mr. and Mrs. Fabulous got engaged here back in the day, grads were taking pictures, there was a little creek and climbing trees…

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There’s a little face in the foliage!!

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Morgan Creek trail

Evidently, this place has a connection to 70′s singer James Taylor.  I know his song about ‘going to Carolina in my mind’ was in my mind during much of the trip, apparently he wrote it after living near Morgan Creek himself.  Lucky for us, this Carolina natural area is accessible by a trail behind the Fabulous’s house.  It was an easy outing, without the usual two minivans we employed to get around.  The kids loved playing with this rope they brought and tied to a tree.  Its the simple things!

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There were also s’mores and tug-of-war in the backyard, a few minor meltdowns, a sleepover party every night, and a great Mama night out for me + Mrs. F. (thanks Mr F.!!) Thank you Fabulouses, thanks Carolina!  We headed back North to our neglected house and poor lonely Mr. Fantastic after being away 11 days in under 3 weeks.  Now we are trying to catch up with laundry, grocery shopping, homeschool projects, and… planning the next trip!

Lake County, Ohio, April 2014

Easter came and again we were drawn to Northeast Ohio like… like seagulls to the shores of Lake Erie?  Like bargain shoppers to the Great Lakes Mall?  I don’t know a great metaphor here but I did in fact travel I-80 with my offspring to cross the substantial width of The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in both directions yet again.  The trip exceeded my expectations since the kids opted to stay six days instead of four, we had a great Easter egg hunt and an amazing Easter dinner, we celebrated my parents’ 53rd (!!!) wedding anniversary, we had some sunny weather, and we explored a castle ruin on a misty day.   We took advantage of three parks not too far from the grandparents’ place, two of which were new to me!  First, the castle.

Squire’s Castle/ North Chagrin Reservation 


I cannot believe I had never been to this place in my years growing up not too far away. Besides being in a beautiful 1,700 acre park with wetlands and a plethora of trails and picnic areas, it might be haunted by Mrs. Squire!  It seems that Feargus B Squire, wealthy V.P. of Standard Oil in the late 1800′s, had planned to build an estate here but abandoned plans and sold the property.  Feargus was indeed planning big -what we explored is the shell of the gatehouse, which was used as his residence while planning the rest of the property prior to his ditching and selling the place.  The ghost story goes that Mrs. Squire didn’t like the rural life, died there and haunts the castle., a website I clearly need to spend some time with, has some great photos and a few more details on the legend.  As for us, it was a great place for hide-and-seek and there just may have been unicorns in the distant fog that day!

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 Headlands Beach

Lake Erie beckoned and we heeded the call.  I try to go there every visit, but the January weather this year kept us away.  April was much nicer and we went to the East end of the beach this time.  There are lovely sand dunes there, a unique protected habitat for certain grass species and the birds and butterflies that use them.  It was very peaceful there as it was too cold for swimming so the crowds were elsewhere.  The wind in the grasses was beautiful, as were the driftwood and rocks we found.  This beach doesn’t have the playground on the beach like the Fairport Harbor Beach, but sand, driftwood and stones are just as entertaining, maybe more so.

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We had the place to ourselves, the sun was right, and I took too many pictures.  Really built this amazing driftwood structure and we went back later and it was still there!  And there were ladybugs and headstands at Headlands that day.

Gully Brook

We are always happy to explore muddy areas and creeks, and we did just that at Gully Brook Park.  This natural area has a long history of appreciation from Ohio nature lovers and was made into the park and protected land only in 2011.  It was another new Metroparks park for me, and not too far from Squire’s Castle.  About a hundred years ago, this land was known for wildflowers, hawk and owl habitat, and large elm trees.  As it happened, I-90 was routed through the area in the 1950′s and changed it drastically.  The preservation of a mile of creek and over 170 acres of natural lands is a triumph for people and wildlife here, since it came after years of organizing and since it is bordered by the large highway and could be further ruined and paved over to the detriment of the non-human inhabitants.  As it is, the wildflower-covered hills are no longer.  But we can enjoy the wetlands, ravine, and paths that are now there.

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