NC comes to us! Also, Hawk Mountain! November, 2014

Staycation with guests!

Representatives from the North Carolina Fabulous family came for a few days and much fun was had.  They had a hotel with a pool and the kids lived it up with lounging and synchronized swimming while Dr. Mama and I caught up.  During the day while the Doc was at a conference, I took the kids to a raptor preserve in Berks County, PA.

IMG_3204 IMG_3201

Lounging and synchronized swimming

Berks County

…has a special place in my heart since I was born there and lived there for my first 10 years.  It was not until long after I moved away that I realized what a beautiful and unique place it is.  One feature is the circular folk art on buildings in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition known as hex signs.  We saw some while driving in the area.

imageimage

 

There are so many stone buildings, some dilapidated but many lovingly restored.  The hex signs are so beautiful on the red barns.  The roads do not seem to have changed much since my childhood; I am always pleasantly surprised at the dearth of strip malls and big box stores in the towns we went through like Shnecksville, Hamburg, and Fleetwood. There is a lot of farmland and forest, nice to see when we were in the higher elevations.

IMG_3206IMG_3205

Hawk Mountain

I wanted to get out of the city and this place had long been on my list of things to do.  Sometimes a guest or two can really spur a nice day trip.  I hustled 6 kids plus snacks and water for the day and off we went.

IMG_3207 IMG_3232

kids at the entrance to visitor center, kids on the North lookout

I had heard about Hawk Mountain for many years.  It is raptor sanctuary with a history that goes back to the late 1920’s.  Apparently, people then were richly rewarded ($5 each- almost $70 today) for shooting goshawks, and the Hawk Mountain overlooks were a popular shooting spot.  The bird carcasses were photographed by amateur ornithologist Richard Pough, and the photos attracted the attention of noted suffragist Rosalie Edge, who acquired 1400 acres including the overlooks in 1934.  She hired a warden, invited the public for bird-watching, and by 1938 the area was made into a non-profit which today is the world’s largest member-supported raptor conservation organization.  Way to go, Pough and Edge!  Especially Ms. Edge who got us the vote and the birds!

IMG_3228IMG_3250

North lookout, original sign in visitor center

Autumn is peak viewing time for the migratory raptors such as Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Merlins, Kestrals and ten other species.  Of course, the autumn colors are also a big attraction.  I took my kids plus visiting sisters Miss A. and Miss M. Fabulous for a day trip to the area.  We hiked about 3 miles total between several amazing overlooks.  The North overlook is shown above.  Cleverly and Miss A saw a Northern Harrier there with the help of a guide.  The South overlook, though, was where it was really happening.

IMG_3242 IMG_3244 IMG_3239IMG_3245

South overlook crowd + views. Stuffed owl on pole (lower right) is to attract certain raptors for better viewing

IMG_3212 IMG_3229IMG_3247IMG_3233

 

Different sights around the sanctuary.  Fiercely is being eaten by a raptor statue!

There were many bird watchers with their gear looking for raptors on their life lists.  We spoke with a couple who had recently gone to Alaska to bird-watch.  These were hard core birders!  Each lookout had a guide or two to assist with locating and identifying the various flying creatures.  The guides had binoculars we could borrow, and we also rented a pair from the visitor center.

IMG_3248 IMG_3251 IMG_3252 IMG_3253

Cleverly showing us the Northern Harrier on a sign, some pics inside the visitor center. nice stained glass window on bottom right

The paths were rocky at times, and the area was windy with some rain, but our adventurers were not to be deterred, at least not for a while.  Plus I had a potential bribe up my sleeve that might motivate reluctant birders – ice cream!

The Oley Dairy

As I told the wildly unimpressed kids, this area was my childhood stomping grounds.  My parents hail from Reading, PA and Pottstown, PA and during some childhood drives in the surrounding country, we occasionally would stop at The Oley Dairy.  Yes!

IMG_3255 IMG_3271

Inside and outside the Oley Dairy

The most expensive ice cream item was under $4 so I told the kids they could have whatever they wanted – not my usual MO!!  The light was beautiful outside.  There is really nothing near the intersection of Memorial Hwy and Oley Turnpike Road other than farmland and the Dairy.  An exciting addition since my last time there was the petting zoo outside, which did not disappoint.

IMG_3261 IMG_3263 IMG_3264 IMG_3269

Fly to Bangkok? Drive to Vancouver? Cruise to Rome?

I was about to pull the trigger and place a deposit on the cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo, but I was a little anxious.  The deposit alone was almost $3000, and with taxes and tips, the cruise looks to cost us about $8K.  Despite reassurances from the cruise line, I was not confident that we could get the money back if plans changed for any reason.  Not to mention we have to get to Vancouver.  The same cruise cost $250 less per person last year when I first found it!  Repositioning cruises (Florida- Europe) in April are about half the price.  Why oh why??  Consternation abounds.

I had a discussion with Mr. Fantastic, during which he looked up prices on one-way flights from NYC to Bangkok.  A glaring possibility I had not considered.  It looks to be about $500pp.  It would be a gnarly 24-hour ordeal, but then we would be there for about half the cruise price.  We would not have the two weeks of room/board/entertainment, but on the plus side we would be closer to our first destination for a long-term stay and time-wise we save about 6 weeks (drive + cruise).  As for the drive to Vancouver, we agree that is neutral since it wouldn’t cost too much and would be a nice part of the trip, but we are willing to forgo since we could do it at a later date and without vaccines/passports.

Another option is to leave in April 2016 rather than September 2015 and catch a cheap repositioning cruise to Europe.  I found one from Texas to Italy for about $700pp.  We bagged that idea pretty quickly, though, since we have already been planning and waiting for so many years and it is best to rent our house in the fall rather than spring.  We are considering, for the return trip, a repositioning cruise from Europe back to the US which may extend our 1-year travel plan by a month or two, but we could score one of those for around $700pp.

So now the rough outline looks like flying from NYC to Bangkok, Thailand in late August/early September 2015.  We would stay there a day or two (hook us up, airbnb!!) to recuperate from the flight then head for Battambang, Cambodia unless we find a better option.  And we have about 9 months to figure out passports and vaccines and renting our house.  I have to research vaccines more, but I do have a few hot tips from Dr. Mama Fabulous, who visited us this week with two of her kids – stay tuned for a post about that, BTW, adventures were had.  And my savings for the deposit for the Vancouver cruise we will likely not take, well, part of that went to a car repair this week, part will go to passport fees, and the rest I hope to grow over the next months.

 

Ohiopyle, PA, Beginning of October, 2014

So, when we last left our adventurers, the Fantastic 5 were headed home from a trip to Ohio – but more exploits awaited.  If you head back East from the Cleveland area, and don’t mind taking the southerly route, what beautiful state park is not-too-much out of the way?  Ohiopyle, PA!  Yes, and we talked the Sylvia Starlight family into joining us.  So southward we went, towards Cucumber Falls, the Youghiogheny River, and, as it turned out, some very lovely yurts.

IMG_3036 IMG_3070

Kids on a bridge, Cleverly selfie in front of Cucumber Falls

We Fantastics had gone to Ohiopyle as part of a bike-camp adventure in June of 2012.  We loved the place, especially the natural water slides that are a part of Meadow Run.  We didn’t expect to swim much this trip but wanted to explore the park some more.

Yurts!

Since our friends were coming, when we saw the off-season rates ($35 per weeknight) for the yurts, we reserved two online.  There are also ‘rustic’ cabins there, which cost the same but have fewer amenities.  The yurts are in great condition, in fact they seem fairly new. They have bunk beds that sleep 5 (one has a double lower bed), a stove, refrigerator, microwave, electric lights, fan and heater.  They are rather close together, which didn’t matter to us since we were mostly the only ones there.  There was one night that a boy scout group came and were a little noisy.  Also, it turned out we Fantastics were in the yurt they reserved, oops.  I considered it karma for the night the Boy Scouts took our Delaware Water Gap site in 2013.  At any rate, they graciously used the other yurts and only stayed one night.

IMG_2991 IMG_2988 IMG_2989 IMG_2993

inside and outside yurt #3

The yurts got a little stuffy in the warm weather we had, even with fans on and windows open, so I imagine they would be pretty hot in the summer.  Other than that, we were very happy with them.  Keep in mind that there is no oven, so you don’t end up trying to make pizza in the frying pan and microwave like I did!  Actually, that turned out ok, but I didn’t even try making the corn bread I had planned.  Also, like the cabins as World’s End, there is no water, so one uses the bathroom building for washing dishes.  Outside the yurt are a deck, picnic table and fire pit.

IMG_3108 IMG_2992

outside yurt (L), and the bathroom building (R)

Visitors may want to know that they yurts, in fact all the camping areas, are about a 4-mile uphill drive from the main part of the park.  Alternatively, one could walk on the trails for significantly less mileage but note that the elevation change is hundreds of feet – i.e., you have a tough climb back up to the campground at the end of the day.  We generally drove down each day and had no trouble parking and enjoying the trails, etc., then driving back.

Natural water slides

This is a big draw for Ohiopyle and for good reason.  The moss-covered portion of Meadow Run is a slippery, smooth journey amid rocks and trees.  We were so lucky to have warm enough water for a few times down.  Fiercely took a great video of one of the twins going down the slides but it won’t load!  Here are some stills.

IMG_2998 IMG_2999 IMG_3001 IMG_3002 IMG_3005 IMG_3006

 

Like I said, we lucked out on the weather!

IMG_3107

Town of Ohiopyle and the Visitor Center

IMG_3019

Ohiopyle itself once was a town with a mill and two railroads.  It retains some historic buildings, repurposed for the outdoor tourism crowd.  One of the railroads is now the amazing bike trail called The Great Allegheny Passage, which we utilized during our bike trip last time.  This trip we had ice cream at a shop that had been the town mill.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Falling Water is just a few miles from the park and in my opinion it ups the game of the surrounding architecture.  Nearby houses with wood and stone and large windows perch over the beautiful river, and within the park even the bathrooms feature natural light and pleasing rock walls.  The new visitor center is especially pretty.

IMG_3092 IMG_3020IMG_3032 IMG_3033 IMG_3090 IMG_3026

Inside and outside the visitor center.  The lower floor has glass walls overlooking Ohiopyle Falls and, according to staff, will soon have nature exhibits.  Upstairs are mannequin rafters and a floor with a river map.  Outside are deck overlooks and wildflowers – gorgeous!

Cucumber Falls

IMG_3066 IMG_3067

We took a little hike near Cucumber Falls, not far from the water slides.  We followed a side trail and ended up down at the river where there were large rocks.  The rapids were formidable and we didn’t venture in at this spot.  We climbed around and looked at the rocks and sky and white water moving by.  A group of rafters came by, it looked like a lot of fun.

IMG_3043 IMG_3036 IMG_3088 IMG_3059

That was most of the trip!  The drive back was beautiful.  Here are a couple of shots from the drive.  What a pretty corner of the state!

IMG_3119 IMG_3121

I just found this poem

I was reminded yesterday of traveling alone, pre-kids, and looking forward to mail from home.  A poem I had read in the 90’s described the weary feeling- mission accomplished and looking for a small reward- so well.  I thought a peace corps volunteer had written it, but I learned otherwise.

This came about because I recently finished a major project I had worked on for several months.  It was the kind of project that sucks up your energy and free time and offers very little reward upon completion, other than not having to do it any more.  I had a final step where I had to interact with an administrative type for some minor paperwork.  She was completely uninterested and informed me that I needed to wait for a certain piece of paper for closure.  It was so anti-climatic and I was so bone-tired, the poem came to mind.  I searched for a phrase and from the wonders of the internet, there was the poem! I wanted to tuck it in here so I can visit it once in awhile.

                 Maratea Porto: The Dear Postmistress There

I run up the stairs too fast every morning

and panting for mail, I stagger inside

and there she sits wagging a negative finger.

Her frown is etched in and her mouth sour

Niente per voi today.

This is Odysseus. I’ve come a long way.

I’ve beaten a giant, real mean with one eye.

Even the sea. I’ve defeated the water.

But now I’m home, pooped. Where’s Penelope?

Niente per voi today.

My name is Joseph and this, my wife Mary.

We’ve had a long journey and Mary is heavy.

The facts are odd. The child could be holy

and I wonder, have you a room in your inn?

Niente per voi today.

I’m Ghengis Kahn and this is my army.

We’ve conquered your land. Now we want women.

Bring them today at high noon to the square.

After we’ve had them, we’ll get out of here.

Niente per voi today.

I’m Michelangelo, here to make statues.

I’ve lugged this damn marble all the way from the Alps.

I’ll need a large scaffold and plenty of ropes,

a chisel, a mallet, and oodles of wine.

Niente per voi today.

Oh, heroes of time, you’re never a hero

until you’ve endured ten days without mail.

Slaughter the stars and come home in splendor.

She’ll always be there at the end of the trail.

Niente per voi today.

                                             -Richard Hugo

Chardon and Lake Erie, Ohio, End’o’September, 2014

It was time to visit the grandparents again, so we headed West across the Allegheny Mountains and north to our favorite Great Lake.  The trees were beginning to change color, yet the weather was warm enough to take a dip in Lake Erie.  First, though, we had dinner in the lovely little city of Chardon.

While there are many small cities and towns in Ohio that have succumbed to economic woes and the accompanying population loss, Chardon was looking quite well.  There was a town square with a lovely gazebo flanked by historic brick buildings, and there were flower baskets hanging along the shops, and a neat bricked sidewalk.  Also, there was live bluegrass music in the gazebo on that Friday night.  We  saw a farmer’s market in the square, an historic town clock that was working, and people enjoying the music.  I was marveling at the surroundings and the perfect evening, while my less-optimistic brother, who grudgingly survived last year’s harsh winter there, commented “yeah, enjoy it now because there will be three feet of snow on it next week!”

IMG_2939 IMG_2943imageIMG_2944

The weather was sunny and warm every day, and every day I attempted to get the kids to the beach, but they wanted to be spoiled by my parents, jump on the neighbor’s trampoline, and play with the neighborhood kids instead.  One day I finally succeeded.

We went to Fairport Harbor, home of an historic lighthouse and its little corner of the Lake Erie beach.  It was summer-like weather without the crowds and parking fees, what not to like?

IMG_2949 IMG_2948IMG_2964 IMG_2950

We saw sailboats – too bad we didn’t have the Dragonfly along.  The kids were happy cartwheeling and enjoying a little bonus summertime.

After a few days there, we headed back East, but not quite home, we had another adventure up our sleeves, stay tuned for part 2 of this little trip!

Agnes Island, Lake George, NY, August 2014

IMG_2832 IMG_2806

the Dragonfly with sails down, Agnes Island

Many people use sailing terms to get through hard things in life:”keep on an even keel”, “don’t rock the boat”, “stay the course” they tell themselves. I found myself doing the opposite during rough waters aboard the Dragonfly with a nervous Captain Fantastic in charge. “Deep breaths”, “this too shall pass”, etcetera. NO references to water or boats or sailing, smooth or otherwise. I was too busy gripping the sides of the boat, watching the “Lev-O-Gage” register an alarming tilt angle and planning how to keep my glasses from falling to the bottom of the lake like they did last year.

IMG_2857 IMG_2830

Another view of Agnes (L), one of the tiny island we could swim to from Agnes (R)

Ah, Lake George. The crystal clear water surrounded by forested mountains where surely the unicorns come to drink on occasion. It was our third time on the enchanted islands of rock and pine and our second with the little sailboat. Five of our family had only been home a few days after Pennsic and Burning Chicken, so it was with weary arms that we packed and schlepped from home to car to boat to campsite. But we were rewarded with the soft Milky Way in a clear black sky, musical crickets and breezes, and that magical water.  Mr Fantastic honed his sailing skills in some rough waters and we had some easier sailing, too.

IMG_2840 IMG_2836

Fiercely jumping from rocks, Really with a fish

We camped this year on Agnes Island, since when we registered we were unable to get sites on Vicars Island. Agnes has only 5 sites, is closer to parts of the mainland, and in our experience is more public than Vicars. From our launch point Huletts Landing, it was about the same distance. Being closer to the mainland, Agnes seems to attract more picnickers and people who want to jump off the rocks, a bit of a drawback since we were rustic camping and sailing and not too excited to interact with speedboats and their owners. Not to say anything bad about the vacationers we met, all were quite nice and friendly and the kids even played a little, but overall I would prefer not to have the loud music and the random people dropping by, parking their kayaks a few feet from our tent. We’ll try for Vicars next time I think.

IMG_2847 IMG_2848 IMG_2850 IMG_2818 IMG_2831

So many mushrooms!  Was it due to the cooler summer weather? I had to document.

That said, we had reserved three campsites and mostly had the place to ourselves, especially late afternoon through late mornings. We explored the island, new to us, and found rocks to jump from, many mushrooms, nice swimming spots, and even a sub-island accessible by a rock ‘path’ in the water. There were also three other tiny islands within swimming distance, perfect for the kids, and us adults too. There’s nothing like swimming to a little island and feeling like an adventurous explorer, no matter what your age. The place turned out to be an excellent venue for Capture the Flag as well.  We camped with three other families which meant lots of kids around and also we shared dinner cooking duties, so win-win!

IMG_2823 IMG_2844

walking to the sub-island, double jump off the rocks

The trip went great until my last day.  This wasn’t everyone’s last day, just mine, and I had to catch a train back so I could work the next day.  We had it all worked out with plenty of time to get to the Glen Falls Amtrack station, we were dropped off at the mainland, got in the car and… the back tire would not turn.  After an emergency call to my dad the wise mechanic – make that remote wise mechanic since he is in Ohio – we realized our car was out of service and we were quickly running out of time to get me to the train.  Mr. Fantastic got a ride from a helpful motorboat owner and went to Agnes Island and back quicker than the Dragonfly with its tiny 4 horsepower engine could go one way.  We borrowed keys from one of our friends staying on the island with us and bolted off in their car.  We didn’t know where we were going so we called a friend at a computer and haphazardly tried to follow their directions while driving in a big hurry.  In the end, we pulled up to the station just as the train was pulling out and I ran and waved maniacally, but to no avail. I missed the train.  We drove to Albany and I was able to catch a different train going my way, but not before more car drama.  Our borrowed car stalled and we had to get a jump.  Then 5 Fantastics were headed back to car repair and Lake George and I was headed to the city.    It was a chaotic moment in an otherwise great trip!

IMG_2860

pushing the car in the Albany Amtrack parking lot- sigh – it was a harsh jolt back to reality after the magic unicorn waters!

Burning Chicken, every August 2006- 2014 and beyond!

To save our biographers the trouble of exhaustive research and speculation, here is where I explain how we came to build and burn giant wooden creatures in our field each year while throwing a great party and confounding the locals.

IM002224

Chicken- 2006

230154_1038337923864_5943_n

Giraffe, 2007

306271_10150424275602586_676991_n

Horse, 2011. P.S. that’s a chicken (actual size) on its right front leg

Many years ago, I was pregnant with the twins but didn’t know it. We had just purchased, after considerable finagling, a 45-acre property outside of Ithaca, NY. Mr Fantastic was at that time employed as a prosthetist- look it up, I assure you that unlike the term that may pop to mind, it is entirely legal and involves prosthetic limbs for their intended purposes only. Also I don’t think it pays anything like the illegal thing you may be thinking of. A-hem. So, there he was, Mr. Fantastic, driving around to various amputees in the upstate New York counties of Tompkins, Cortland, Tioga and suchlike, when the man had a vision.

227104_1038336603831_2637_n229669_1038336443827_1572_n

Bat, 2008

Among the cornfields, poor radio choices, and prosthetic limbs rattling around in the trunk, an idea came to him. Ignorant of his future- which included twin daughters, losing his job, and somehow, eventually, a sailboat- he pondered the large field, the one which we had of late become owners. We had camped on that field recently with young Fiercely and baby Cleverly. It was a big field. The kind that brings to mind large outdoor parties to which we had become accustomed since living in Ithaca. He also considered our chickens, and the Burning Man Festival. These ideas came together to produce our annual Burning Chicken Festival, a weekend-long party where we build and of course burn a large wooden creation.

523604_3950800566517_791993155_n

Squid, 2012

The first several years, we cajoled friends into helping us build the cabin during a kind of work- party weekend. There was much messy work with the straw bales, the mudding of walls, and the herding of children.  The first year, we found ourselves with oddly shaped wood scraps which a friend and master carpenter cleverly fashioned into a chicken shape. It was about 25 feet tall. It burned beautifully there in the field with a crowd of marshmallow-stick wielding children and their grown-ups.  Thus went Burning Chicken I.

IMG_1007IMG_1017

Cicada, 2013, in honor of the 17-year cicadas that were about that summer

As the years went by, the cabin became mostly finished so the weekend was just about building and burning the beast.  After a lengthy discussion about just what to build, of course.  The cicada idea just lent itself in 2013 since all summer we had been seeing the 17-year cicadas do their thing.  And who doesn’t want to build a giant wooden cicada?The horse happened in the Chinese Year of the Horse.  The squid was just a challenge people couldn’t turn down in 2012.  And this year, the kids chose a bear.  It was fitting since our neighbor had seen a four-member bear family that spring in his front yard.

IMG_2754IMG_2783

Bear, 2014

So that, my friends, is the story of Burning Chicken.  What will we build next year?  It’s anybody’s guess.  It will be the big tenth year, so the idea has been floated to burn another chicken.  It will also hopefully be our send-off for the RTW trip so perhaps that will suggest a creature.  Stay tuned!!!

44424_1599159824061_6263327_n

Leaping frog catching a dragonfly, 2010