Burning Chicken X, August 2015

The egg came first this time! We built a chicken inside of an egg for our annual camping party

 The tenth anniversary was bittersweet, filled with stellar people, transcendent moments, and reluctant goodbyes. We don’t know when Burning Chicken XI will be. We had a great time camping and building a giant creature in the meantime, though!!

Mr. Fantastic made a maze in the tall grass, as he usually does, but this year he also cut some grass for an archery range. Then there were clay pigeon shooting, swimming at the pond, fire juggling, a harpist playing, and general merriment.

Here’s the flaming fowl and a beautiful evening sky:


That’s all for now. We are working on getting transportation to Vancouver since our car is dead. I’m working a few more days in the meantime and I’ll post more details as they emerge!

Limbo, August 2015

We haven’t left yet, as my co-workers keep reminding me. Our house was rented out the beginning of the month  so we are staying elsewhere. We were at Pennsic for a week, then six days at a friend’s house who was away, now the kids + Mr. Fantastic are trying to get to the cabin (more on that later) and I’m alone for six days house-sitting in south philly. 

I’m pretty sure I just confused those older Chinese-looking ladies in the park with my attempts at mandarin. I’m trying to learn a little mandarin and do some travel planning before I work my final two days at my job and go to the cabin for Burning Chicken 10, which is also like our going-away party. Except we can’t leave from there because we have some loan paperwork that needs to be done first. Also, there is the matter of the car.

We have always faced the fact that our overworked Dodge Caravan may not be up for the cross-country trip. We have backup plans of renting a car, taking the bus or train, even buying a car and reselling it on the west coast somewhere. And it appears we may have to enact those plans sooner than we had hoped; the car has broken down. 

It happened yesterday while the Fantastics, minus yours truly of course, we’re heading north to the cabin. Mr. Fantastic texted the grim matter to me and stayed in a hotel with the kids, who probably loved it. So now I find myself comparing various ways across this vast country for the six of us. What will we do? Stay tuned!

Some notes from frantic research:

Rental car to Ohio, bus to Chicago, train to San Francisco, rental car to Seattle, bus to Vancouver:

$400 for a two-day rental car to my parents’ place, then Megabus from Cleveland to Chicago (6.5 hrs) is $32ppx6=$192. Then there is the Zephyr train to San Francisco (50 hrs) for $164-$321pp, probably at the higher end since it is tourist season, but also discount for kids, so $984-$1284 total. And no driving! Then car rental again to get us to Vancouver. A week for a one-way minivan from San Fran to Vancouver is difficult; looks like you go to Seattle then take a bus. A week of car rental one way from San Francisco to Seattle looks to be $1000. Bus is about $20 for the 4-hour ride, train is $45, also 4 hours. What is the grand total for transport? About $3100, not including gas and food and lodging. We were hoping for about $1000 less than that including gas, room, and board in our car, as I had calculated in a previous post. Bummer. But I do get kind of psyched about the big train ride!

Skipping San Francisco may make things easier:

I don’t really want to, but maybe we should. Same trip to Chicago and then Amtrak to Vancouver. The train is $985-$1400. Depends on which train, transfers etc. but not bad. It’s only 50 hours, so that means more lodging costs and no camping gear. 

Train to San Fran then fly to Vancouver?

San Francisco to Vancouver flight looks like $150. So $600, not bad compared to car but I really want to see a friend in Portland. Drive San Fran to Portland w/ 2 day car rental =$400. Just a 10-hr drive so maybe 1 day car rental=$200. Why is it $200/day for a car?!? Drop fees, which seem standard for one way rentals, are killing me!

11 days one way car rental from philly to Seattle is $1800. That may be the way to go. I guess renting longer is less per day, only 1 drop fee. Also, we can take all the luggage we can fit and we can camp along the way. 


Cleveland to San Francisco for us $1400 per cheapo air

Chicago to San Francisco for us $768
No idea how this will turn out, but we have a lot of options!

Pennsic War, Slippery Rock, PA, August 2015

Because getting ready for the Big Trip isn’t enough chaos for us, we went to a two-week Mideival Reenactment Festival out near Pittsburgh. Mr. Fantastic had taken the kids to Pennsic 43, and this year I went for about a week of Pennsic 44. It was awesome! 

 I had heard of the Society for Creative Anachronism, also called the SCA, back in college. It appeared to be a lot of fighting and role playing and I just wasn’t very interested. But then three years ago, Mr. Fantastic was driving through rural PA and noticed an encampment of some kind. Maybe a religious event, he thought, or a Lollapalooza- type concert. Back at home on the Internet, he read about Pennsic War and began planning our participation.

Really and Truly singing in the kids choir, they are in 2nd row, Truly in green cap is looking away, Really is 2 kids to her left

The SCA is way bigger, more sophisticated, and more organized than I had imagined.  It encompasses a highly complicated network of participants who not only practice European fighting techniques of roughly the 600’s to the 1600’s, but those who study and craft objects from that time period such as illuminated texts, fiber art, and musical instruments. And it is not just Europe, but the Known World, which extends to China, Japan, and parts of Africa. Even the fighting is more interesting than I had realized, since there are archery, fencing, and atlatl-throwing as well as the combat with full body armor. Several people told me that the armor combat draws in a lot of people, then they stay for the friendships and often get involved in other aspects. Check out this project:  

Mastering 15th and 16th Century Pleatwork Techniques

I hadn’t realized the scope of the “Arts and Sciences” part of the SCA until hearing about it from Mr Fantastic after his first Pennsic. I saw some of it for myself last week. These projects were very high quality, deserving of academic recognition in my opinion. Maybe some artists were doing this as part of a PhD, but it seemed to be more of a love of the time period. Also, the artists could gain points for their Kingdom through recognition of their work at Pennsic, and individually, SCA members can become “Laurels” for their achievements in Arts and Sciences. Here are two more projects, one on Safavid Woman’s Sock Boots, and one on Viking Age Wool Production:   

I was stunned; these could be displayed in a museum and must have taken copious amounts of time and energy. Oh, and I looked it up: Safavid refers to an empire that once controlled what is now Iran, and apparently did so with Sock Boot-wearing women!

 So it’s not just knights in armor, though there are thousands of those and they are very impressive. There were theater productions such as an amazing one of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (Fiercely and Poppa auditioned and had small roles in this and worked on it online during the year) several commedia del arte (16th century Italian theater involving masks and improvisation) performances, wandering musicians individually and in groups, and choirs (children, adults, and a smaller audition-selected adult choir) singing period songs.
Then there were classes! Hundreds of classes! The kids made painted silk banners, leather pouches, and beadwork.  I myself attended Insults in Old Norse-Iclandic Literature, Women and Medicine Before 1650: An Introduction, and one about a typical merchant from historical records of the age. Here is the list of classes from Pennsic 44. Unbelievable!

I could go on and on. There were beautiful canvas tents and yurts, some with pennants waving gracefully in the wind. There were around 300 merchants. The site is a 100 acre park and the event, with its over ten thousand participants, seems to cover every nook. People were friendly and interactive, almost all have period names and many have a backstory they will happily share with you. Cleverly had won a raffle at another SCA event and so we picked up her prize at Pennsic. We now have a gorgeous handmade banner with… A Burning Chicken! Here’s Fiercely with the banner on our “mundane” (SCA for modern) tent:

So, it was a wonderful time in a beautiful, exotic place and we haven’t even started the Big Trip yet. Huzzah! 

Two final pics: the twins and Cleverly with kazoos in the Fools Parade, and some strollers in garb! 

Homeschool Amazing Race, May 2015

It was winter and I did not want to drive the kids to their friends’ houses in the cold and snow. I thought about busses and trains. Growing up in the Ohio  suburbs, the only bus I knew took me to school and every teenager longed for a drivers license. Before that, we lived in a larger town in southeast Pennsylvania and my mom would take me places on the city busses. In my 20’s I went to England and revelled in the car-free ways of getting around. English friends would describe their teenage years of traveling in their country and even other countries on trains. 

These days, I take public transportation to work and I value the service. I like not driving. We also have access to car share and bike share programs, though we do own a car and we use it quite a bit. As my kids get older, though, I would like them to become comfortable with busses, trains, trolleys, etc. As I considered this, and Fiercely’s peers, the homeschool teens, I thought about them learning to use the public transportation system. They would be more comfortable in groups. Heck, we could make a game of it, a scavenger hunt, and set them loose in a big city. We could host an Amazing Race style experience. 

I decided to talk to other parents and put it together. When I spoke with Mr. Fantastic, it somehow became about…zombies. The next thing I knew, the date was set, the plan was in place, and it seemed another homeschool mom and I were slated to portray imprisoned mad scientists. Our post was outside of Eastern State Penitentiary and we wore prison numbers, called each other “doctor” and made vague references to rare, possibly illegal ingredients in an antidote to the zombie epidemic as the kids came by in groups, wielding transpasses and looking for the next clue. It was the Zombie amazing SEPTA race for homeschool teens.

We had so much fun doing this so I wanted to write something about it. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pics other than KJ and myself as inmates:

She’s an actor and accomplished improv performer and teacher; hardened criminals would not smile like me there! The link a few sentences ago has a Philly newspaper article with more pics. 

So the way we did it was like this: Mr Fantastic and I came up with a list of places we wanted the kids to go to, such as the Penitentary and Laurel Hill Cemetary. Mr. Fantastic made up an awesome storyline to send the kids to various places. It went something like: there’s a rash of zombifications in the city and we suspect an epidemic. There is an antidote, and you teams are tasked with finding out what the ingredients are and locating them. A particularly important ingredient was brains – chocolate brains from the Reading Terminal Market at Muellers “Your source for anatomically correct chocolate body parts” Chocolate (check out their website; I could not make this up!). Along the way, they got advice from various parent actors. They all had day passes for use on various trains, trolleys, busses, etc. They used SEPTA and Google map apps for planning their moves. Their smartphones took a beating as they tried to find the quickest way to the next clue. The day was long, about eight hours.

We ran the route by car a few days before the event to scout for potential problems, such as the fact that the Italian Market stores are largely closed on Mondays. Especially important to us, the exotic meats butcher with the taxidermied animals would be closed the day of the Race, so we wouldn’t be able to scandalize all those homeschooled vegan kids like we’d planned LOL. 

The day of the Race, we all met at City Hall so that all the groups could start at the same time. For safety, the kids had to stay together in groups and had to have at least one smart phone per group. This took place on a school day, so just in case they were questioned by any authorities, we gave them letters with details on what they were doing with adult signatures and contact information. (They weren’t questioned, by the way)  Adults stationed at the different locations would call Mr. Fantastic as each team left. Mr. Fantastic went by car to check up on the groups at times. A parent accompanied one group of tweens, since the kids wanted to be with their friends rather than have older kids accompany them. At the end of the day, all of us met for dinner at an Indian restaurant. 

It was a good time. The kids had some adventures navigating the system, making decisions together, and in one case getting a little lost in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood. They learned something about reading bus and subway maps, getting around without a car, and working together. Incidentally, the city was saved!

In Which I Offer An Explanation 

I gave notice at work, we moved out of our house so the renters could move in, and we are basically beginning The Adventure!  Exciting! Scary!  People who are just now hearing about it have some questions, often the same questions, so here goes: What?!  We are taking about a year to travel around the world. Who??? My husband and I, both in our 40’s, and our four kids aged 9, 9 (yes, twins), almost 12, and almost 15. Where!?! We are driving to Vancouver (via Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, OR to visit friends and family), then taking a ship from Vancouver to Shanghai, spending some time in Eastern China on the way to Laos Vietnam **** by train and bus. After a few months in that area (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand), we have loose plans to go to India and then back through China to Russia on the Trans Siberian Railway.  We hope to go East from there back to the US, possibly across the Atlantic Ocean in the Fall of 2016. Why the heck? We want to see the world together while our kids are still home with us.  They are homeschooled and we are taking advantage of the freedom we have as homeschoolers.  We parents value what we have learned travelling and we want it to be a part of their education.  We parents want to do this while we are relatively young and healthy, rather than after retirement when health issues can surface.  The kids want to see different things they have read about, like different animals, landscapes, and structures. Doesn’t everyone like to travel? I think it’s kind of self-evident. How in the world…? I assume this question is about finances. We have talked about it and planned for it over about 8 years.  Two years ago, we refinanced our house and paid off credit cards.  As for income, my husband has a few small properties he rents out and we will have some income from that.  We also are taking out a low-interest loan on one of the properties so we don’t have to use credit cards so much. We are going low-budget (hoping to spend $100-$200/day) and we researched lower-cost areas to explore, thus SE Asia, India, and Eastern Europe.  Western Europe and Australia, as contrast, are probably not within our budget.  We plan to travel slowly and get longer-term rentals of weeks to months rather than nightly hotels to help lower expenses. As for other logistics, we have looked at blogs and other resources about travelling, especially detailed family travel blogs such as soultravelers3,  traveljunkies, GlobeGazers, and NomadicFamily. What about school/friends/healthcare/natural disasters/political unrest? We homeschool, we hope to keep in touch on the Internet and also meet new people, we have traveler’s health insurance and we got medications and vaccines for what we could, can’t do much about earthquakes and all wherever you are but we’ll avoid obvious danger zones when it comes to natural and human-made threats to safety.  I hope to continue this blog to keep friends and family updated. So, stay tuned tripsters, it’s going to be a wild ride!!


**** Update: Vietnam is looking unlikely due to unforseen visa hassle.  We went through it with China (6 weeks, 3 rejections, total cost of over $200 per person!), which we had to do because we can’t board the ship without Chinese visas, but Vietnam is not a necessity.  If you’re interested: the Vietnam visa by land costs about the same as the China visa – around $130 per person – but only lasts 3 months rather than China’s 10-year visas we now have!  Arriving by air in Vietnam, it is about half this, however it requires prior planning (applying in advance online for an “approval letter” then dealing with more paperwork at the airport) as well as, for us, buying 6 plane tickets and the 6 visas, which would really add up.  And I prefer to go by land since we want to travel slowly and see things.  If we find another way, we may make it to Vietnam, but for now we are planning to exit China into Laos (visa cost = $35, available at border, yes!).  Especially interesting, this route takes us to Kunming “the City of Eternal Spring”, and Xishuangbanna, where there are minority villages and an elephant reserve!http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/26/world/asia/in-land-that-values-ivory-wild-elephants-find-a-safe-haven.html?_r=0

We’re gonna miss ’em when we’re gone

I bought a ticket for the long way ’round, the one with the prettiest of views. It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights to make you shiver, but it sure would be prettier with you. – Carter Family “When I’m Gone”, 1931

We are saying good bye to a lot of people these days. I do not like goodbyes. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.  I usually don’t take pictures of them, but…


 Dr Mama and kids came up from North Carolina and we frolicked in center city Philadelphia. There are wonderful fountains and we had a big sleepover and swam at their hotel’s rooftop pool. When will we see them next?

  Last minute goings-on are stressful. Yes, we are getting ready for an exciting trip around the world but I’ve been spending my time cleaning obscure, greasy corners of the kitchen.  Cleaning, packing, painting the house ugh. I am not, shall we say, the most fastidious housekeeper and we are kind of doing eight years of spring cleaning in a couple of weeks.  Then there are the Chinese visas. They have been denied 3 times! Ommmmmm it will work out…

The packing and organizing go on and on… I think the new tenants come tomorrow!!!

Maryland & Virginia & West Virginia Part 3

RW and I had made the highly questionable decision to bike in the rain.  Both Wonderful parents and two of their kids, along with Fiercely and Cleverly, decided to come along.  Mr. Fantastic was interested in bringing non-bikers to the Udvar-Hazy Center, a part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum consisting of airplane hangars housing historic aircraft.  That quickly, the plan was made.
First, though, came breakfast!  We had checked out the Desert Rose Cafe the day before and decided to have breakfast there.  We had also discussed ordering bagged lunches from there.  Two great decisions! We biked to the cafe in the rain, had a cozy breakfast with all 12 of us, bought a couple of rain ponchos then split into our two groups. 

  Off we went back to the towpath. It was pouring rain nonstop, just as everyone said it would. The mud puddles were profound and unavoidable. I could not take pictures because there was so much rain. For about six hours we biked like this. Part of the path was a beautiful esplanade next to the river where the canal boats used to actually be in the river. I wish I had a photo, but, you know, rain. At one point we stopped and ate our sandwiches in the rain. Cleverly decided to bail out after about an hour (Mr. Fantastic was our support vehicle if we needed one) but then rallied and finished with us.

There were few bikers on the path. I noticed those in front of me had large mud splashes up their backs and after awhile it dawned on me that I probably did too. We all had mud caked on the inner sides of our legs and shoes. About an hour or two from our destination, the rain let up and we drip-dried a little. It was still cloudy. I thought again of the canal boats and how the workers would work in any weather until the canal froze.  We eventually came up to a bridge and into the historic town of Harpers Ferry.

We met up with the rest of our group, who had indeed gone to the airplane museum. We drove to get supplies and then to the Wonderful family’s cabin. This became another adventure since the steep gravel driveway proved too much for our car. We loaded our things into the Wonderfuls’ car and walked the short stretch to the cabin.

Above: our car trying and failing to get up the steep stretch of driveway. We ended up parking by the yellow car.

The cabin was beautiful and had all the modern comforts like running water and electricity. We all took showers, had dinner and went to bed. 

Day 7

We woke up in the cabin and had a great breakfast. Then we spent the day exploring the place. The Wonderfuls have a share in a cabin that is part of a larger Washington, DC-based spiritual group. The group has over 1,000 acres of hilly, forested land through which passes the Appalacian Trail. There is a pond, several hiking trails, and a number of buildings, including retreat center facilities.  We enjoyed hiking, playing the many board games there and a few we brought, and generally exploring the area. 



 Day 8

We headed back home today. First we went back to Harper’s Ferry where we had left a few bikes. It looked so nice in the sunshine!

And then it was time to drive home. It had been such a splendiferous trip! I loved it all- the history, the food, the biking in sunshine and in the rain. The kids had done great, and now most of us have biked most of the way between Pittsburgh to Washington DC. Not all at once, but this trip was 120 miles, and three years ago we did about 75 miles.

A postscript

One of our group, thankfully only one, unfortunately contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever on this trip. It is a tick-borne disease and landed this person in the ICU and on some serious antibiotics. It is clear that taking precautions against insect bites of all kinds is wise when you are camping and hiking in the woods like this. We all had numerous bites on various body parts and luckily the ER staff identified the likely cause of our friend’s symptoms and prescribed the correct treatment. All is well as of this writing thank goodness!!!