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! 

The Mummers, New Year’s Day, Philadelphia since 1900

Mummers for Mamas!!  This is an article I wrote for the first issue of my zine “Madre Zenith” back in 2005.  I put out maybe 11 issues over about 5 years, chronicling the madness that was my life with the move to the country, having surprise twins, and raising four daughters in their early years.  We went to the Mummers parade this year and it was as glittery and glamorous as ever. Text refers to 2005, photos are from this year.

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L – Mummer with backplate, R- Mummer dressed as a baby with typical Mummer parasol – sometimes parasols are 3 tiered, and yes, he also has a baby bottle 

It’s hard to believe it’s a secret, with all the banjos, sequins, and 30-foot tall floats, but folks outside of the Delaware Valley don’t seem to know about the Mummers.  When I was 10 and we moved from Reading, PA to Painesville, OH, I couldn’t believe that when New Years Day rolled around it happened without the locals parading in their makeup with umbrellas and shoes that were spray-painted gold. I thought that every city had a Mummer’s parade, but I was mistaken.

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L – “wrong way” theme, since the parade had changed route for 2015. R – a Mummer captain

So, you may ask, what is it? It’s a huge parade starting at the ungodly hour of 7am on January 1st, in almost any kind of weather, and it goes until after dark. There are wigs, there are high heels, there are feathered back plates worn by glittering captains of the various brigades. Brigades? Yes, there is a lot of organization to this thing. There are four categories, and clubs compete for prizes in a huge number of sub-categories, with rules and structures I can’t even begin to understand, but the whole thing is just so darn entertaining it doesn’t matter much.

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L – crowd watching a ‘jailhouse rock’ themed team, R confetti in the sky

What you do is get a good spot as early as you can on Broad Street, ideally near an intersection where the string band performers will do their thing. If you are there early enough, you can see the ‘Comics’, the first division to parade. Its hard to see what makes them a division since some are individual performers, some small groups, and some larger groups. For several years I joined a Comics Brigade of West Philly activist types and our performances were political statements, but we were not the norm. One year, a Comic performer followed us who appeared rather tipsy and inexplicably was dressed like Mr. Potato Head. It seems to me a catchall category for Mummers who don’t mind marching at the crack of dawn and don’t fit into any other division. Oh, and the ‘wenches’-usually men with two fake braids trailing down their shoulders, and frilly dresses, bloomers, and caps- are out there in the comics division, then they mingle with the growing crowds as the day progresses.

IMG_3484Men dressed in traditional wench costumes in the annual Mummers Parade on New Year's day. : Stock Photo

L- Mummers in metallic Sgt. Pepper-themed costumes, R – wenches (I had to borrow this photo, I didn’t get any wench photos!)

Next come the Fancy division of the Mummers. These are floats, as far as I can tell. It’s a bit chaotic, but definitely a crowd pleaser, especially for the preschool set. There are ten foot tall butterflies, Fabregé eggs, seahorses, knights, just a bunch of shiny fantastical creations being rolled up the street and eventually judged and ranked you can hear the sportsy commentary on local TV that day if you go inside somewhere.

Fancy division Mummer. Another borrowed photo, we missed this part in 2015.

 

Well, after the Fancies come the String Bands – the darlings of the day. With live music played on banjos, some horns, accordions and a few other instruments and elaborate props and choreography worthy of Broadway, the clubs perform tight, three minutes or so shows with a distinct theme. Everything is very homemade and non corporate, which is a rare thing these days. Folks work all year on these shows, hiring choreographers,comissioning costume designers and music even, just to be the best and win bragging rights till next year. This year we saw ‘Arctic Adventure’, which included a human-sized snow globe with the team captain inside and several Mummers pulled in Mummer dogsleds while the 50-member band played a sort of polka version of ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ or something in a medley of snowy songs. There were also polar bears and penguins, all in their glittery air-brushed glory. I think they came in like 17th place or something. Other highlights from other teams were: a knight being lifted 40 feet in the air by some backstage hydraulic contraption, a street-width 30-foot high church backdrop for ‘Can I get an AMEN!’ with a working pipe organ and stained glass windows, and air cannons shooting metallic confetti some 60 feet up into the sky. All done while moving everything and everyone the seven or so miles of the parade route, and in spectacular makeup to boot. Did I mention that the overwhelming majority of these people are working class union guys in drag? “Mama, is that a man or a woman?” was heard more than once from my four-year-old, and I often wondered the same thing.

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It was dark when we saw the String Bands. L – Alice in Wonderland theme, R – farmer theme

So when the last glorious String Band passes by, and the last notes of the glockenspiel fade away, and you are about 8-9 hours into the parade, the last division begins. It is the Fancy Brigades, with their giant amplifiers and flashy dancers and more themes. Their official performances are done indoors, though, so you can only imagine what 85 people dressed like Elvis will do onstage later tonight. Just enjoy the pulsating bass of whatever disco song they are gyrating to, have a hot pretzyl, and distract your children from the balloon saleslady nearby. That is the end of the parade until next year, and Philadelphia cleans up and goes about its business as if it never happened. Except for me – I’m here to say that everyone needs to learn the strut to “O Dem Golden Slippers”, look it up on the web, do what you have to do, but get yourself to Philly one New Year’s Day and give it up for the Mummers.

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Clockwise starting top L: Jack Sparrow pirate theme String Band, our favorite – sparkly head-to-toe leotard glittery shadow dancers with a sun god-type captain in very tall feathered headdress, alien Mummer guy, Native American theme 

World’s End, January 2015

We went back for our third annual long winter weekend at World’s End State Park, a beautiful area east of Scranton, PA and very close to Rickett’s Glen and Loyalsock, two other PA state parks.  I have written about the other trips there, and this one was similar.  Beautiful hills, ice waterfalls, cozy cabins heated by woodstoves, eight or so families to play with.

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Clockwise from top L: me in front of a majestic ice waterfall, our cabin (#4 this year), partly frozen river, hiking on a trail

One thing I hadn’t mentioned in other posts about World’s End is the Cabin Notebooks – a real treasure!!  Each cabin has several notebooks going back at least 10 years.  People write whatever they want in them about themselves and their time at World’s End and the cabin.  There are mentions of hiking, wildlife, mice in the kitchen, weather, marriage proposals, family traditions, alien abductions, the lack of cell phone service, you name it.  Some people draw or write poetry.  There are teen laments about the lack of Wifi.  It is a rare and lovely look at people’s experiences and their handwriting, too!  I finally made an entry one night about the group we were with, our times hiking and eating and little things like that.

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Cabin notebooks, and another creative expression- a snowman stabbed by an icicle!

It’s a wonderful place, and I’ll share some more pictures because there’s not much more to say.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Like I said, we lucked out on the weather!

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Town of Ohiopyle and the Visitor Center

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

 

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.

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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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