Pennsic Wars and Washington, DC, August 2014

Mr. Fantastic, wearing peasant’s clothes sewn by Fiercely, was calling me from 16th century Europe, sort of.  “It’s amazing! I just met a scrivener from Italy!  There’s a giant castle wall 50 feet from me right now!!  You have to come next year!”

About a year ago, he had seen an unusual formation of canvas tents outside of Pittsburgh, PA.  After a little research, he happened upon The Pennsic Wars and a new Fantastic adventure was born.  How had we not known about this before?  It has been going on for over 40 years!  It is kind of a Renaissance Fair, where you live and act SCA style, for up to two weeks every summer. There are classes and artisans and everyone wears costumes the whole time.  In its 43rd year, it draws thousands annually.  What does it look like?  I had to borrow some internet pics because I’m not there and none of the Fantastics brought a camera!

Per reconnaissance reports from the Fantastic 5 I understand there is a daily newspaper that reported a population of just under 10,000 the other day.  Over 2,000 participated in a war reenactment per Mr. Fantastic.  And yes, dear reader, as you may have guessed I am missing out on this experience because someone has to go to work around here.

addendum: someone showed me this article yesterday by another East Coast first-time Pennsic participant!

As for garb, Fiercely sewed great costumes for the crew, here are Truly, Cleverly, and Really: IMG_2689

But our heroine finds a trip!

Not to be deterred, I noticed a 3-day weekend in my work schedule as this trip was in the planning and immediately schemed a solo trip to DC.  I do not mind at all being left out of some trips if I get my own adventure plus a rendezvous with that rare and coveted beast Free Time!  So, aside from spending time at my job, I went to DC, relaxed, slacked, cooked and cleaned very little, and worked on this blog.  Which reminds me of a quote from a far more dedicated writer than myself, Whoopsie Piggle: “Life as a writer: I sent my family on vacation this morning while I stay home. So I can write about them.”  So I sent them off.  And off I went to the nation’s capital!  And now I write.


How to get to DC without a car?  I love trains, but with the always-limited budget, bus travel is pretty appealing.  There are several large bus companies that go up and down the east coast, some even offer $1 trips if you plan well enough, but this was sorta last minute.  I really like that Sino-pseudo-Greyhound: the Chinatown Bus.  These buses go between NYC, Philly, DC, and Richmond, VA and a few other places that apparently have Chinatowns of their own.  The buses arrive and depart in Chinatown in each city.  Richmond, VA has a Chinatown?  Well, according to a very short Wikipedia entry with multiple quotation marks, Richmond

has a “Chinatown” on a “semi-suburban road” setting on Horsepen Road

So, say Ni Hao and thanks for the great cheap bus service if you’re ever on Horsepen Road in Richmond!  I paid $18 round trip from Philadelphia to DC – $10 there and $8 for the return trip.  I felt like I was cheating someone; I think it costs more in gas and tolls for that trip!  The buses were on time to leave and early to arrive, clean, and they have bathrooms.  Word to the wise: BYO TP because there wasn’t any in the bathrooms.  So maybe its a little unacceptable for the typical traveler, but to me it brought back days of travel in Central America and I didn’t mind.  The bus stations are small and basic, they do have bathrooms with toilet paper BTW.  

Arlington, VA

IMG_2698 IMG_2716

Selfie on LW’s balcony, walking around Arlington with Lincoln

My friend LW from Peace Corps Honduras lives outside the “diamond” shape of DC proper but still on the metro line and about 10 minutes from The Mall.  She and her dog Lincoln were gracious hosts and happy to walk me around the neighborhood.  Arlington is a strange mix of what the young and upwardly-mobile want today – high-rise apartment buildings that have the feel of upscale student housing, a farmer’s market, bike share, and big-box stores on walkable city blocks.  At one point, we walked by a strip mall (Crate & Barrel, Barnes & Noble, etc.) that anywhere else would be surrounded by a large parking lot, only there was no parking lot, and this was on a very pedestrian street.  There was also a dog park, not like a fenced field, but a dedicated lot with a special fence,  some type of kitty litter stuff on most of the ground, and a waterfall/water play area designed for the upscale dogs we saw strolling around.

James Hunter Dog Park

Rock Creek, Chevy Chase

So, Link liked the dog park, but what he really loved was jumping into Rock Creek.  We visited Chevy Chase, Maryland and took a long walk next to the creek.  There was a wooded park there perfect for a long walk.  Apparently Rock Creek Park is the largest park inside city limits in the US – 1700 acres-  impressive!  We saw deer, which Link had fun chasing.

Rock Creek Park

Roosevelt Island

If you’re getting the idea that this trip did not involve any museums or historic sights, you are right.  We did a lot of walking and hanging out.  There is a lot of DC outside the Mall, interesting neighborhoods and surprisingly nice parks.  We did get to see a monument at Roosevelt Island, a small car-free island accessible by footbridge in the Potomac with hiking trails and plenty of river access.  We saw kayakers, and plenty of dogs including the joyful, swimming Link.  I didn’t bring my camera, but here are some pics:

It really was a strange place – a sort of hidden monument that most visitors to DC will never see. It seemed to be a popular spot for locals who were jogging, hiking, and walking their dogs.   There were large defunct fountains at the monument, but otherwise the area was maintained.  I wonder how Mr Roosevelt would feel about it.

Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights

We found ourselves in this neighborhood visiting some peace corps friends.  There were a lot of hip-looking shops, at least one bike shop, and Victorian archetecture to make me feel drawn to the area.  Bottom picture is of a faux-historic mews-style condo I liked.  The peace corps folks say there are baleadas here as good as the Honduran ones – we weren’t able to get any that day so clearly I must return!

IMG_2704 IMG_2705 IMG_2707

And back to Chinatown

The Chinatown neighborhood seemed to be gentrifying as evidenced by the fact that I saw a sleeping drunk and a family of brunching yuppies on the same block.   They have a lovely arch and some good-looking restaurants.  For me, though, it was just about catching the bus back.  This time, with memories of a great weekend in my mind and toilet paper in my pocket.



the Cabin, July 2014

For swimming, rain, cold, or hot, whatever you pack is whatever you got!  That is our packing mantra for every trip, and we had it all this time!  We headed to the cabin on a beautiful July Monday with two extra kids for a few days.  We found miniature ponies, rain, bunnies, flowering lily pads, and generally so much color and beauty my camera almost burst.

IMG_2604 IMG_2670 IMG_2671 IMG_2669


IMG_2643 IMG_2646

Our tenants at the property have had a horse named Zoe since they moved in, and the horse is always a major attraction as we pass her on our way to the cabin.  This time, we arrived at night and there was a nearly full moon and a gentle, enveloping mist as we lugged our bags to the trail.  “PONIES!!” called Cleverly as she passed the corral.  “There are TWO TINY PONIES!!”.  Now, Cleverly is not always the most reliable conveyor of information, being rather dramatic and embellishing the truth at times, and she had two friends along to impress.  I was ahead of her, had not looked at the corral, was not inclined to believe her, and was not interested in turning back.  But she sounded legitimate so I left my bags and walked back.  There, in the moonlit field, surrounded in a light fog, were two small silouhettes in addition to Zoe’s shape.  Ponies?  It seemed unreal in the night, but I saw them.  And it turned out to be true: our tenants had acquired a miniature pony and she had a baby!  The kids ran down the next day and got to really hang with the equines, even brushing and feeding them with their owners.  Baby miniature pony?  That was a show-stealer with this crowd.

Rain and the Ithaca Sciencenter

From Tom Robbins, because I’ve always had a thing for him.  It really wasn’t this bad but it did rain a day and a night, and it gives me an excuse to quote Mr. Rock Star Author himself:

“And then the rains came. They came down from the hills and up from the sound. And it rained a sickness. And it rained a fear. And it rained an odor. And it rained a murder. And it rained dangers and pale eggs of the beast. Rain poured for days, unceasing. Flooding occurred. The wells filled with reptiles. The basements filled with fossils. Mossy-haired lunatics roamed the dripping peninsulas. Moisture gleamed on the beak of the raven. Ancient Shaman’s rained from their homes in dead tree trunks, clacked their clamshell teeth in the drowned doorways of forests. Rain hissed on the freeway. It hissed at the prows of fishing boats. It ate the old warpaths, spilled the huckleberries, ran into the ditches. Soaking. Spreading. Penetrating. And it rained an omen. And it rained a poison. And it rained a pigment. And it rained a seizure.”

So what to do with 6 kids when the rain doesn’t stop?  We headed to Ithaca and the Sciencenter.  We spent a lot of time here when we lived in the area, and the kids were happy to go back.  Here are some exhibits inside:



and outside, a pendulum thing seen from above, and bubbles!


Then there are the impressive indoor animals/fish, and a Green Tree Python with its peculiar, rather creepy, coiled manner of sitting on a branch:


A Rescued Bunny

Mr Fantastic was mowing when he came upon a rabbit nest with 3 bunnies.  The mom had left, and unfortunately the mower killed a bunny, so two adorable critters were there in the meadow.  They were small and slow, but they were old enough that their eyes were open and they seemed ok.  The girls were on the case as they checked out the situation and made plans to adopt, however we parents felt the bunnies needed a chance to reunite with their family.  We decided to leave them overnight and deal with them the next day if needed.  As it happened, the next day there was one bunny alone in the nest.  It was quickly placed in a basket with some wool we had from cabin insulation.  See below with my hand for perspective – the little guy/gal was tiny!  And probably had not eaten or drunk anything since before the incident with the mower.


Using the neighbor’s wifi and my trusty i-pod, I located the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, part of Cornell university in Ithaca.  We drove over there and left the bunny, we were all a little sad about it but it was the right thing to do.  I left contact information and a couple of weeks later we got a letter from the place saying the bunny was doing well and being readied for release back into the wild.  Here are the kids outside of the center.  I thought we might get a tour or something from the staff there, but the place was small and they seemed busy so it was a little anti-climatic.  I suppose having a large number of kids didn’t help.  Anyway, we saved a bunny!



The pond and outhouse

The pond was lovely after the rain, and the kids swam quite a bit!  There are a lot of lily pads this year, I’m not sure why.  The flowers were beautiful.


the outhouse is looking good!  The roof is finished.  We got a fancy faux-silver toilet roll holder at a thrift store.  Mr. Fantastic put in new flooring, too, and he’s working on the broken window.  Here’s a view from inside and outside:

IMG_2648 IMG_2649

and how to tell if you should approach!

IMG_2653 IMG_2654


So it was a nice summer scene in rural upstate NY.  We made it back safely, returned the guests to their parents, and continued with summer in the city 2014.


Signing off,

Mrs. Fantastic

Evansville State Park bike/camp June 2014

The Wonderful family and ourselves, along with a bonus family of 3, set out for Evansville State Park on the Schuylkill River Bike Path for our sixth annual bike/camp extravaganza!  The youngest are our own Fantastic twins, recently turned 8, and all the kids were raring to go.  They chose this location for its bike access, woodsy seclusion, fairy house potential, river, and minimal car time.  In fact, we used only one car for gear for our 9 kids and 6 adults.  Most of us ended up biking over 80 miles during the 4-day trip.  Bike, bike hooray!

IMG_2872 IMG_2830

Cynwood to Manayunk

We stared off near the Wonderful household on the Cynwyd (pronounced “kin-wood”) Heritage Trail (above).  This little 2-mile rails-to-trails linear park has tremendous community support and big plans of incorporating the historic Manayunk Bridge- let’s do it people!!!  I can’t wait to ride this trail at that time because it will be an amazing bird’s eye view of the city that will also connect the town of Bala Cynwyd on the west side of the Schuylkill River to Manayunk on the east side. One caveat, however: we rode downhill on the trail almost the whole way – it may not be as fun going uphill.  For us it was a lovely day, a comfortable downhill slope, and we were just starting on our trip.

IMG_2841 IMG_2839IMG_2836IMG_2865

Historic hotel and bridge in Collegeville, us on part of the trail: Original dedication inscription on bridge says “This bridge was founded in the Year of our Lord 1798 & finished in 1799″ along with some names, see Wikipedia article about Perkiomen Bridge


Collegeville and Evansville State Park

Once we crossed some traffic and the bridge to Manayunk, we were on the bike path until Collegeville, about 22 miles.  We stopped for lunch at Valley Forge, a National Historic Park on the bike trail where we ignored some significant national history and took advantage of the bathrooms and picnic tables.  Then we continued on to Evansville State Park where we had stayed before.  In the quiet, wooded group campsite we were once again the only campers.  We ate, played Boggle and “four on a couch” (using a log for the couch-the game was new to me and so fun!), made campfires, and hiked to the Skippack Creek and went creekwalking.  We saw a water snake and lots of fish, also we saw a fox on the trail.


Skippack Village

We were pleasantly surprised to find a bike trail from Evansville State Park to the small, touristy town of Skippack Village.  It was about 7 miles and went through agricultural fields, suburban backyards, and a town park.  A few of us went to check it out then all of us decided to go on a second trip.  It is a small strip of historic buildings which are now many gift shops, a pottery store, and the wonderful Miss Riddle’s candy shop.

IMG_2853 IMG_2854 IMG_2858IMG_2861

clockwise from top left: covered bridge where trail meets town, bike trail signage,  picnicking next to the river, Skippack Village signage

We lucked out with no rain, mostly happy kids, and a nice ride back.  I noticed this old film studio near Valley Forge next to the bike trail (below).  Interestingly, it is the site of a pre-Hollywood film studio called Betzwood Motion Picture Studio that covered 350 acres and churned out a movie a week at its prime in the early 1900’s.  Thanks to this blogger for documenting so much about it.  Also below: rock wall detail, Falls Bridge in Philadelphia.


 How Time Flies!

It was during last year’s bike trip that the idea for this blog was born, so it is nice to post about this year’s trip while considering all of the trips I have blogged about over this past year.  A year from now we should be very close to The Big Trip RTW!  Much to look forward to, much to enjoy remembering, thanks for reading.


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.

IMG_2464 IMG_2465

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.

IMG_2466 IMG_2467 IMG_2478 IMG_2475


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.

IMG_2483 IMG_2485 IMG_2486 IMG_2489

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.

IMG_2495 IMG_2496 IMG_2497 IMG_2498

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.

IMG_2499 IMG_2500 IMG_2501

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.

.IMG_2523 IMG_2524

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


IMG_2526 IMG_2534

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.

IMG_2528 IMG_2530 IMG_2535 IMG_2529

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

I especially liked this graffiti.

IMG_2532 IMG_2533

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.

IMG_2543 IMG_2551 IMG_2555 IMG_2559


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.

IMG_2547 IMG_2546 IMG_2561 IMG_2562 IMG_2560

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.

IMG_2565 IMG_2566


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:

IMG_2579 IMG_2568 IMG_2578 IMG_2577 IMG_2525 IMG_2574




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!

IMG_2420IMG_2404IMG_2405 IMG_2409IMG_2410 IMG_2415 IMG_2417

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.

IMG_2428 IMG_2427 IMG_2431 IMG_2432

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.

IMG_2438 IMG_2441


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.

IMG_2447 IMG_2444


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.

IMG_2449 IMG_2460

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.

IMG_2313IMG_2308 IMG_2310IMG_2316 IMG_2327 IMG_2326IMG_2323IMG_2324

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.

IMG_2341 IMG_2344

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.

IMG_2331 IMG_2335 IMG_2339


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!