Saturday, November 11, 2017

Amish 365

Hello! I'm not sure when my interest in the Amish began, but their settlement in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is well-known. I probably heard about the Amish first in reference to that area. 

Consequently, when we ended up living about an hour east of Lancaster County, I enjoyed many trips there. Pretty countryside, fun shops, roadside stands - and I never tired of seeing Amish horse and buggies traversing the roads in the area.

I mourned moving away from that proximity to Lancaster County when we moved to west-central Indiana, but then learned we were now about an hour east of another Amish settlement, the one near Arthur, Illinois. And so I made more happy visits to get my fix of peaceful countryside, Amish grocery stores, and more encounters with horse and buggy travel. 

(I can still recall seeing one Amish buggy pass another on a quiet road in this region - just like you see a car passing a slower one in front of it. And yes, when I passed both buggies, I saw that the faster buggy was driven by a young guy, while the slower buggy driver was an older woman. So the Amish maybe aren't so different than us in that respect! At least, that was the case on that day. But that remains the only time I've ever seen one Amish buggy pass another.)

Then we moved further north, and we're now about two hours from the largest Amish settlement in these parts, Shipshewana, Indiana. I've been there a few times, but haven't made the trip that often. A four-hour round trip, plus driving around on the back roads and in the towns to check out all the shops of interest makes for a long day. 
 
But I can still get my Amish fix, courtesy of Kevin Williams' Amish365 website. Mr. Williams, who's based in Middletown, Ohio, has visited Amish settlements big and small throughout the US and even parts of Canada. Besides that wide range of travel, Mr. Williams also covers a wide range of Amish information: the good (writing about an Amish weddings), bad (reporting on Amish buggy accidents) or in between (interviewing the young teachers at an Amish school). 

And then there's the recipes. True, Amish food tends to be heavy at times, but after all, these are folks who do far more physical labor than most of us "English" (how the Amish refer to the non-Amish) do. I suppose they burn up a lot of what they eat. 

So instead, I mostly just drool over the many recipes Mr. Williams supplies. For example, today I saw recipes with a Thanksgiving theme: a mock pecan pie, several stuffing variations, scalloped corn, pat-a-pan pie crust, and more. I can vouch for the pie crust recipe, as it's the one I'll be using for my Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It's very easy and very good! (I first encountered it in the Amish cookbook Cooking From Quilt Country).

Mr. Williams also covers a variety of non-Amish topics, such as his long career as a journalist, activities revolving around his two cute young daughters, and occasional trips down Memory Lane to reminisce about stores, restaurants and other key markers of his childhood that are now gone. (note: he's in his mid-40's, so if you're around his age, or older, as I am, these memories will often be very familiar to you as well). 

You can either read Amish365 via this link, or sign up for email notification of new postings. It's a fun way to keep up with the Amish way of life!


Friday, October 27, 2017

Fly/Drive East-Midwest #2

Hello! Picking up where I left off from my last post:

Day 4: Busy day today in the Williamsport, PA region. The action began with me heading over to an estate sale not far from our hotel. Alas, it wasn't a big enough sale for the whole house to be open; instead, the man running it had put stuff on tables and in boxes on the ground in front of the house. Not too well organized either. Oh well, since I was there, I might as well poke around. 

While I was doing so, a few other people drove up and began to look around too. All they seemed to care about were the unclothed Barbies for the young girls they had with them. That gave me a chance to snag a few vintage Christmas decorations, for considerably less than what even thrift stores would charge. 

A must-see for us in the Williamsport area is a trip to Purity Candy near Allenwood, MI. Since it was a weekday, I was hoping to see the workers in action; only viewing windows separate the factory operations from the retail store. But during this visit, all I glimpsed was chocolate being tempered; the workers were mostly busy cleaning tools. 

So instead I took pics of these recently-made molded chocolates:

A 7-lb Santa, priced at $45.50. That'd be a nice gift under the tree on Christmas Day!

And for the major holiday preceding Christmas:

For $111.90, a 17.2 lb chocolate turkey. That's bigger than the turkeys I buy for my small family to eat! 

And speaking of eating, I bought pretzels, both chocolate-coated and plain, from the "bargain corner" area of the store (near the cash register). My husband bought chocolates from the bargain corner as well as some from the display cases. Good stuff!


Non-chocolate, but still fun to see:

For six bucks a bag(don't know what the weight is, either four or eight ounces), clear toy candy. It's basically hard candy, molded into cute shapes. (I was given reproduction molds as a Christmas gift years ago, which I used thereafter to make clear toy candies as treats for my nieces and nephews.) 

I think this candy is traditional in parts of Pennsylvania, but don't know how common it is elsewhere. So if you'd like to know more, read this. 

After returning to Williamsport, we lunched at the Wegman's food court, then headed over to Worlds End State Park to hike on a section of the nearly 60-mile-long Loyalsock Trail within the park. What follows are some pics of our hike:

We'd already climbed up a few hundred feet in a short distance to reach this trail junction. If we'd elected to continue on the Worlds End Trail, it would have been more of the same. But instead we continued on Loyalsock Trail, which at this point turned onto an old woods road.

View along Double Run Creek.

A small worship space off of the trail, but you don't have to hike in the woods to get to it. Shortly after I took this photo, we crossed a road to continue on the trail on the other side. 

View of the trail's namesake, Loyalsock Creek. The word "Loyalsock" comes from a Native American word for "middle creek" (this creek is in the middle of three creeks in the area). 

In spite of the overcast sky, we greatly enjoyed our time on the Loyalsock Trail. As residents of Pennsylvania from 1991-1998, we hiked the trail in its entirety while living there - including many excursions while toting our baby daughter along. She was six weeks old for her first "hike". She grew up from front carrier to back carrier to walking on her own two feet during that time span. Thus, I reminisced pleasantly on our previous hikes this day. 

Later on, I asked my husband if he, too, had reflected on our earlier visits to the trail. He said, yes, he had, and informed me that the stretch we revisited today had been our very first hike on Loyalsock Trail. (he'd kept records of our hikes.) We'd chosen that stretch, which is nowhere near the beginning of the trail, because of the easy access from within Worlds End State Park. 

Upon completion of our 3 1/2 mile hike, we drove back to Williamsport and walked over to this place for dinner:

Boom City Brew Pub, in downtown Williamsport. The restaurant's name and logo references Williamsport's lumbering heyday. Vintage saws and other old woodsman tools were hung from the walls, along with a  framed photos that showed scenes from the lumbering history. I thought I'd taken some photos of the interior decor but later discovered I had neglected to do so. Maybe I'd been too busy enjoying a good turkey burger sandwich! 

The fun wasn't over for me yet, for I'd learned that a church rummage sale was beginning that evening. This one was bit further away than the location of the morning estate sale I'd attended, but still close by. I enjoy driving around old towns like Williamsport anyway.

I picked out some books, a vintage board game, and some craft supplies, and took my selections to the checkout table. There, I learned that the rummage sale was actually being run by the Needlework Guild of America, or NGA; the church was just letting NGA use their space. I'd never heard of NGA, so the woman taking my money clued me in. It's an organization over 100 years old, so the name dates from the original mission of making clothes to distribute to the needy. Today, the organization has fundraisers, like the rummage sale, to raise funds to buy new clothes. Locally, these new garments are given to area schools for students in need.

I was glad to support such a worthy effort with my rummage sale buys, but was amused that the organization has never changed its name over the years. "Needlework Guild of America" sounds like a group dedicated to embroidery and needlepoint! 

Day 5: traveled from Williamsport to Pittsburgh. Nice fall scenery along the way. Pennsylvania is a very pretty state and to this day I still miss the hills there. We lunched along the way at a rest area, eating subs from Wegmans.

It was a Saturday, so probably not the best of days to visit Pittsburgh's Strip District, but we did so anyway. This commercial district is loaded with a variety of cool shops, popular restaurants, ethnic grocery stores and sidewalk vendors. With all this to see in just a few short blocks, it was also loaded with people too. It was hard to walk along the throngs on the sidewalks, so to escape the crowds we ducked into a few stores here and there. Didn't buy anything, but still enjoyed window shopping - especially at Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. This store didn't look all that big from the outside, but inside, we saw that it was a series of connected rooms. It seemed to go on and on! One room had a deli with cheese counter, prepared salads, meats, etc. Another room featured tools for making pizzas and pastas at home. Other store displays had bulk containers of nuts and other ingredients, cans of Italian tomatoes and bottles of Italian olive oils, and other cooking ingredients. 

So basically it was nirvana for anyone of Italian descent, or who enjoys Italian food. I claim both, courtesy of my late Sicilian father. As I toured the store, I could easily picture him putting item after item in his shopping cart - with my mother right behind him, telling him he didn't need all those foods, so he'd better put them back. (in Italian imported food stores, she'd usually relent and let him keep a few things in the cart). 

Although no purchases were made at Pennsylvania Macaroni Company, we continued with the Italian food theme with dinner at Armstrong's in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Come with your appetite, or be prepared to leave with doggie bags. My husband and I did the latter: me, with the remnants of my Meatball Casserole entree, and he carted out leftover Pasta with Mushroom Sauce.

Day 6: We overslept this morning, so we got a late start leaving our hotel in the suburbs (Moon Township). Had to fight traffic and gusty winds from the Ohio border to Cincinnati. It was already close to dinnertime by the time we arrived at our hotel in Blue Ash (lunch had been at a Five Guys in Wheeling, WV). I finished up my meatball casserole, but my husband went to the nearby Sichuan Chili and got one of their tofu-based dishes. 

Day 7: Began our travels by going to Jungle Jim's, a mega-sized grocery store that we consider a must-see in the Cincinnati area. My husband and I each grabbed a shopping cart. He filled his with selections from the big craft beer section, while I wound my way around the vast ethnic grocery section to look for things that I either can't find at my local grocery stores or would purchase for more money at my stores. I usually zero in on the Asian food choices, but really, there's something for everyone at Jungle Jim's - no matter what cuisine you like to cook!

After wheeling our way around Jungle Jim's, we headed for lunch at Tacqueria Mercado. Have only gotten tacos from their menu, but I can recommend them - and the trio of salsas they bring out with your order. I can never decide which one I like the best, so I use all three!

Our final destination for the night was our daughter's apartment in West Lafayette (she's a first-year PhD student in chemistry at Purdue). To my surprise, my husband wanted to stop at Indianapolis' Fashion Mall along the way. During our last vacation, he'd gone to  a See's candy store in suburban Chicago, and had been given a coupon there to use at a See's store another time. We don't live close to See's stores, but there's one at the Fashion Mall, so of course my husband wanted to stop to use that coupon. Yeah, we'd already gotten chocolates at Purity Candy, but See's is even better quality. 

Our daughter had to work that evening, proctoring a freshman chemistry test, so we picked up takeout from Thai Essence for our dinners. Good food. 

The next day was uneventful, just a travel day back home. We had had a great time - a mixture of cities, small towns and countryside. Mostly great weather too; in fact, some of the trip was quite balmy in temperature. Rain was a minor factor - for a total of about an hour the entire time. Meanwhile, back home storm after storm had passed through. I returned to a rain gauge reading of 4.5". So we'd definitely picked a great time to go out of town!

But really, with all the sites we visited and the fun we had, any time would have been great to take this vacation. Well, maybe not winter and the possibility of snow or ice to drive on. Still, we've never been up to Williamsport in December - would like to go to Purity Candy then and see them craft handmade candy canes (they start making them after Thanksgiving, I think). Maybe sometime...















 





 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fly/Drive East-Midwest #1

Hello! I'm not of fan of flying, but my husband informed me we had  a voucher from Southwest Airlines to use up before it expired, so off we went on a trip last week. This time, it was a fly/drive vacation to the East Coast and back. We had great weather and a great time!

Day 1: We left from the Gerald Ford International Airport. Had to change planes at BWI (Baltimore-Washington International)to continue onto Providence, RI. My husband explained we'd save around $300 by renting a car from Providence instead of from Baltimore. He is very diligent when planning our trips!

The airport in Providence has interesting displays - lots of references to boating. I saw maritime photos and even a sailboat propped up near an exit. We were only spending the night in Providence, and it was already around 9:30pm by the time we were on our way to our hotel. It looks like an interesting area and I think it'd be nice to spend more time there. Bonus: the local accent is fun to hear (of course, I figure our Midwestern accents stick out just as much to their ears.)

Day 2: Left Providence for the drive up to New Haven, Connecticut for lunch. We wanted to return to this place:

Claire's Corner Copia in downtown New Haven, across from Yale. Although this restaurant has been around since 1975, I never heard of it until I bought one of its cookbooks several years ago from an antique store in Allegan, MI. The year after that purchase, we ate at Claire's Corner Copia, and I always wanted to go back. 

Claire's is a small place; no wait staff. You go up to the register and look over the huge blackboard  behind it:

Lots of choices, but I eventually settled on the Arthur Avenue Sicilian sandwich, loaded with broccoli raab and other veggies, on a great multigrain bun. My husband got the Tofu Scramble. We both enjoyed our lunches. 

The weather was pleasant in New Haven, so I would have liked to walk around the storied Yale campus for a bit, but my husband reminded me that we had a little over 4 hours' drive to our next hotel, up in Ithaca, NY. So bye bye, New Haven, it was nice to see you for a little while again! 

Nice drive up to Ithaca - skirted the Catskills, so there were hills and scenic vistas along the way. Got into Ithaca in time for dinner, which was at Bandwagon Brew Pub downtown. My lunchtime sandwich was big enough that I wasn't really hungry for dinner, so I settled for a salad. My husband ordered what he always gets at Bandwagon, a Cajun-style andouille sausage/shrimp entree served over a cornmeal waffle. 

Day 3: We had lunch at another venerable vegetarian restaurant, this time at Moosewood in downtown Ithaca. Claire's Corner Copia has a small handful of cookbooks, but Moosewood has probably close to a dozen. I happen to own several myself. But while perusing their "browsing copy" shelf, I spied this:


Their latest effort had just come out last month! I flipped through it while waiting for our lunches. It looks like a very nice, very "now" cookbook. I saw mention of spiralizers, "bowl" meals and other indications of current vegetarian trends. 

Also seen at Moosewood:


 Scene from the room we dined in. 


The dessert list looked great, but I was full enough from my Thai Peanut Salad, and my husband also passed after eating his stir fry.

After lunch, we split up to explore different parts of Ithaca. He went up a very steep hill to explore the Cornell campus, while I popped in and out of shops. We've been to Ithaca several times already, so I revisited favorite haunts like the craft-centric thrift store Sew Green and the big used book store, Autumn Leaves. 

But instead of buying secondhand at Autumn Leaves, I actually bought two brand-new tomes at the indie bookstore Buffalo Street Books:

I've always liked indie bookstores anyway, but had learned via a local paper at the hotel that Buffalo Street Books is struggling financially. In fact, an emergency meeting had been held just the night before my visit, in order to inform the public of their difficulties. As I paid for my purchase, I told the clerk I'd read of that emergency meeting and wished them well. He said community support at the meeting had been encouraging.

Also seen around downtown Ithaca:


Didn't stop in here, but liked their sign!


And right next to Sacred Root was this:


The Leslie Puryear Community Stage. I didn't find online info on this stage, which looks to be portable. But I did learn that the late Leslie Puryear had been a longtime community activist and a key player behind the Ithaca area's popular GrassRoots Festival. 

After whiling away the afternoon in Ithaca, it was time to drive two hours south to Williamsport, PA. Two hours of traveling can seem like a drag after a busy day of sightseeing, but the US 15 route offers great scenery along the way: one tree-covered hill after another. Never much traffic on this stretch either, so it can feel quite remote. I like that part, as long as it's not starting to get dark (then I worry about not seeing deer in time).

Edit: Oops, I'd neglected to mention that we ate dinner in Williamsport upon our arrival there! We dined at The StoneHouse, where my husband and I each had a small pizza. He enjoyed a couple of craft beers too. He liked his pizza but I thought mine was only so-so. I tend to be very picky about commercial pizzas; it doesn't take much for a perceived ingredient imbalance to throws things off for me. In the case of The StoneHouse, the pizza sauce tasted a tad too sweet. There are entrees on the menu that look pretty good, however - maybe I'll try one of those next time. Nice atmosphere inside the restaurant, even if I wasn't crazy about my pizza.

One benefit of The StoneHouse: after a busy day in Ithaca, it was nice that the restaurant was but a short walk from our hotel. We were staying at the downtown Hampton Inn, which is a great location if you want an easy trip to Wegman's (a top-rated regional grocery store chain), Kohl's, or various nearby restaurants, watering holes and locally-owned shops.

And there are now a couple of other hotels down the block from the Hampton Inn. We've been coming to Williamsport since 1992 and the downtown area seems to be thriving more now than it had during our earliest visits. Great to see!

All for now; I'll save the second half of our trip for my next post.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Made It: A Fall Scrap Fabric Wreath

Hello! I've shown off scrap fabric wreaths on this blog before, such as the post seen here.  Since I've made a few by now, I figured I was done with this craft. 

But then I bought a large bag of fabric scraps at our town's sidewalk sales during the summer. While sorting out the pieces by color once I got home, I noticed that many of the scraps were already cut in pieces the perfect size for a scrap fabric wreath, and what's more, they happened to be mostly in fall-ish colors. So I decided to make a fall scrap fabric wreath for our front door. 

I also raided my own assortment of autumn-hued fabric scraps, which was fine with me - this project's a great way to use up pieces too small to do much else with. 

I remembered I had a bag of vintage quilt scraps that had been cut in a shape that would work well in the making of this wreath; these bits can be seen in this post. I dug out the bag to find the scraps that fit with my color scheme (mostly grays, browns, blacks, orange, yellow and dark red), zeroing in on the shapes as seen in the second photo in the linked post.  

I bought an 18" wire wreath frame at Michaels, then tied, tied, tied away. It actually goes quicker than you might think, and I liked seeing all the strips come together on the wreath frame as I filled it in. 

Here's how it turned out:

And here's a close-up of some of the fall fabrics I used:

Striped ticking, Halloween prints, vintage plaids, ginghams...this wreath's got a little bit of everything.

Well, everything that makes this a fall scrap fabric wreath!

(If you'd like to make your own scrap fabric wreath - in the colors of your choosing, of course - the directions are within the first link in this post.)


 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Superior Vacation: Part Two

Hello! Our Superior vacation continued with a drive up US-41 to Copper Harbor, near the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. It's a very scenic drive - in fact, this stretch of US-41 was recently included in an online list I saw (compiled by Architectural Digest magazine, I think) of top fall drives around the US. It was a bit too early for peak color during our visit, but nevertheless, still a nice drive. 

I'd told my husband I wanted to stop in downtown Calumet, which we hadn't done in years since it means veering off US-41. I was curious as to what changes, if any, had come to that town since our last stop there a good decade ago. 

The copper mining boom of the region  brought wealth to Calumet, which resulted in niceties you wouldn't typically expect in such a isolated area: a few mansions, a large department store, an opera house that booked first-class entertainment, and more. However, the mining boom is long gone, and the Keweenaw Peninsula saw a decline in population and money. 

Calumet was no exception, but things seem to be looking up now, at least a little more. When we first visited the area in 1984, locals had already begun to band together to preserve the copper mining history. Ultimately, their efforts would eventually lead to the creation of the Keweenaw National Historic Park in the early 1990's.
This has resulted in a large number of "heritage sites" throughout the region, which include a broad range of museums, mining tours and other points of interest. 

I'm guessing this initiative has brought more money and visitors to the area. Downtown Calumet had more shops and places of interest to visit while we were there than I recalled from our last time through. 

Above, the Michigan House Cafe & Red Jacket Brewing Co, which is where we ate lunch. I had the Drunken Pig sandwich and my husband had the Michigan House burger. This was easily my favorite meal of our vacation - everything in my sandwich was top-notch, and my husband said his burger was excellent too. Highly recommended!

The building's ambience helped too - it had its beginnings as a hotel in 1905, built by a local brewing company to market its beers in the hotel saloon. Old-time charm still abounds inside:

.
Vintage chandelier, and more vintage behind it in the form of snowshoes hung on the ceiling. 

Tile flooring.

I would have taken even more photos, but the lighting wasn't the best, and we had other stops to make. 

The photo of the Michigan House building was taken from the 3rd floor of the building across the street, the Vertin Gallery. In its heyday, it was the Vertin department store, but is now home to art works and antiques. I figured with such a huge space, there'd be a lot of stuff to look over, but alas, large sections of the 2nd and 3rd floors were roped off, with jumbles of furniture and other things instead of booth displays. So there really wasn't as much to see as I'd hoped. But at least I did get that nice photo of the Michigan House building. 

From another side of the 3rd floor, another block was in view:



There's some empty storefronts on this block, but the space on the left houses Supernova Yoga, Gallery & Gifts. I didn't go in this business, but it looked nice. 

However, we did go here:

Once a church, now the Calumet Arts Center. The center sells works by local artists, as well as offering classes and hosting cultural events. I like to support local art centers when we travel, so I bought a couple of small pottery items. 

We also ducked inside a few art galleries and gift shops. We missed a few more shops and didn't go into local historic sites. Just didn't have enough time to see much. Nevertheless, I went to Calumet's visitor center, which is located on US-41 before you turn off to drive into town. Picked up a bagful of brochures for future visits to the region!

From Calumet, we continued up the peninsula, veering off onto M-26 to drive through the picturesque shore towns of Eagle River and Eagle Harbor. And as we've also done in years past, we drove up Brockway Mountain Drive to take advantage of the scenic overlooks:

That's Copper Harbor down below. On clear days, one can see Isle Royale from the top of Brockway Mountain, but it was too hazy to do so this day. Still enjoyed the trek up and back, even if the driving is a bit hair-raising at times.

Copper Harbor is small but has a number of gift shops and restaurants. We used to always eat lunch at the Harbor Haus - delightful food and a lovely setting overlooking Lake Superior. Unfortunately, it no longer appears to be open for lunch, which is why we'd decided to go to Michigan House in Calumet. But for old time's sake we walked to the shoreline bordering Harbor Haus:

The only shop we checked out while in Copper Harbor was our old favorite, the Laughing Loon. When our daughter was little, it was a tradition to let her pick out a stuffed animal from the shop, and occasionally we'd buy a souvenir t-shirt for ourselves. But we bought nothing today.

Once last stop before we returned to our hotel in Houghton:

A sign marking the beginning of US-41. If you were to travel its entire distance of almost 2,000 miles, you'd end up in Miami. I wonder how many people have done just that? Would be an interesting trip sometime. Besides the UP, we've taken US-41 through parts of the Chicago area and Indiana. But I think that's it!

Reluctantly, we had to leave the Keweenaw area the next day. But before we did so, we had one last meal:

Just outside of Hancock, the Four Suns eatery, run by the adjacent Peterson's Fish Market. The restaurant has walk-up windows for ordering and pick-up, with places to sit at the covered "porch" and a few outside tables. My husband and I both got the whitefish sandwich. It was good, but we agreed that we liked our fish lunches at Muninsing's Fish Shack better. 

Four Suns was still worth the visit, though, especially since we had a great view of this across the road:

The Quincy Mine & Hoist property, now a museum site run by the Keweenaw National Park. Have never toured the site, but would like to someday! 

It was time to head south toward home, this time through Wisconsin. Again, for old time's sake, we stopped in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. We lived there for three years, in the late 1980's/early 1990's, and it was where we had our first house:

This was the oldest house we'd ever lived in (although we looked at 18th C homes while house hunting in the Philadelphia area); it had been built in 1871. It still looks much the same as when we lived there, other than the siding that now surrounds the chimney. Not something you should do to an old house! 

We ate a so-so dinner at an Asian restaurant in downtown Stevens Point, which we made up for by going over to Belt's ice cream stand for dessert. We used to live only a seven-minute walk from Belt's, which meant that there were times I'd go there to cool off in the afternoon with a grape slush after a session of antique furniture refinishing - followed by an after-dinner dessert of a flurry (their name for soft-serve blended with mix-ins) while with my husband. Ah, those were the days! 

So for the sake of nostalgia I got one of my old favorites, a hot fudge brownie flurry. At this stage of my life, it was too rich and filling to finish, but it was still great. Belt's is a seasonal walk-up place, and it's a tradition to make a point of going there for the first and last days it's open for the year. As these days are in March and October, it isn't unusual for snow flurries to be falling as people stand in line, outside, waiting to order ice cream! Wisconsinites are hardy folks. 

After eating all that ice cream, it was time to walk off some of those calories:


A walk along the Wisconsin River at Pfiffner Pioneer Park. Like Belt's, this park was also a short jaunt from our house, so we walked this path often. During this visit, I recalled the time I called in a mail order (no online option back then!) and gave the woman at the other end of the line my Stevens Point mailing address. She thought that the name "Point" meant the town was on an ocean! Guess she didn't have any idea where Wisconsin was (this was no foreign-accented call center worker either). I had to explain that the town was at a "point" on the Wisconsin River. 

We spent the night in Stevens Point, but had lunch there before leaving. I'd taken some pics of the restaurant where we ate, the Wooden Chair, but they didn't come out well. But it's a cute spot - one of those places much of the furniture is vintage and much of it doesn't match. Food was good, and it's a fun atmosphere. 

From Stevens Point, we continued on to Milwaukee. We got there too late to do much but eat dinner at Jalapeno Loco, near Mitchell Airport. We first ate here in the early 2000's, when one of my brothers lived nearby. It's solid Mexican food; has some of the usual menu items but also some less-common entrees. We've always enjoyed our meals here. 

Since we spent the night in Milwaukee and were only going as far as suburban Chicago the next day, that meant I had time to visit American Science and Surplus before heading to the Windy City. AS&S is another old favorite of mine. I'd already visited a couple of the smaller Chicago-area stores run by the business (one has since closed), but was happy to check out the larger Milwaukee store while my brother lived in town. I was in luck this time: the store was having its annual tent sale. This meant even more savings on even more wacky stuff. But I tried sticking to more practical stuff, like more bottles for my DIY kombucha and toiletries, and craft supplies. It's a fun place.

The Chicagoland visit involved dinner out at Rockwood Taproom, plus shopping at a plaza that has a See's candy store (great chocolates and other sweets), a Trader Joe's and a Goodwill. What more do you need? :)

By this time, though, we were getting a bit tired of traveling - covering 1,600 miles in one week will do that to a person, I guess. So after spending the night at our suburban hotel, we left for home, stopping only for gas and lunch. We were back home by mid-afternoon. It had been a nice time though - definitely a "superior" vacation!
 










 







Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Superior Vacation: Part One

Hello! The Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan seems pretty remote when you live many hours from it. We may have never gotten there, but then my sister moved to Houghton in 1984 to teach at Michigan Technological University (aka Michigan Tech). We visited her shortly after she was settled in and liked what we saw. She didn't last long - in 1988 she moved back to my hometown near Flint. But we continued to vacation up there.

In fact, for awhile we had a streak of going to the Keweenaw area at least once a year through 2008. (this was no small feat during the seven years that we lived on the East Coast). I told my husband it was time to start visiting other parts of the country, and we had a great time traveling west, south and northeast for our vacations.

But now the tide has turned - it was time to go back and revisit the Keweenaw area. So what follows is a bit of what we saw and did during a trip last week. There's no way this blog could recount all the scenery and history of this unique part of the state - what follows is just a brief summary!

Above, the Fish Basket food truck in Munising. My husband learned about this place on Yelp. Fresh-caught Lake Superior fish and French fries made to order - what's not to like? Fresh fish is a real treat, and we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch here. 


Our first stop to take photos of Lake Superior; taken at a roadside rest area off M-28 near Au Train. Not sure, but that might be Au Train Island off in the distance. 

Driving across the UP is a bit of a lesson in patience, as there's no freeways once you leave I-75 north of the Mackinac Bridge. Over the years, we'd pass the time by looking for various "landmarks" near the roads. As I'd said in the beginning of this post, it's been several years since we were last this way, so we were curious to see what was still around. 

Alas, the Laughing Whitefish market, down the road from a river of the same name, appeared to be closed. I hope that its sign, with its caricature of a laughing whitefish, lives on somewhere else. Love the name of the river, loved that sign!

Also gone was the giant cactus statue that stood out in the front yard of a house in the Marquette area. I suppose that the cactus went along with the Spanish-style exterior of the house, but both seemed incongruous in an area more known for woods, lakes and long, snowy winters.

Additions: a few more art galleries and studios here and there, and a number of traffic circles have been constructed in Marquette (to take the place of traffic signals, I think). Not really a fan of the latter, but it is what it is. A lot more chain stores in the Marquette area than there used to be too.

Finally we arrived at our destination, a Country Inn and Suites in Houghton. We can remember when this hotel wasn't even there. Since we'd been in the car for several hours already, my husband suggested walking to the downtown for dinner. It wasn't that far - about a mile - but since the hotel is atop a steep hill, the trip back from dinner meant going up that hill. No need for using the hotel fitness center's treadmill here! 

Spied this sign while in downtown Houghton:

A display of kayaks blocked part of the sign, which read "Houghton County Snowfall 286.6". That's a lot of snow, but not unusual for the area. My sister said that 299" had fallen during one of her winters there; folks said it might as well snow one inch more so they could say they'd gotten 300" of the stuff. But it was not to be. 

No sign of snow while we were there, of course - but also no sign of normal temps for the time of year. In fact, one day during our visit Houghton was just one degree shy of tying the record high for the date. It was in the low 80's during our stay, well above the norm.

Saw a number of boaters out enjoying the waters of the Portage Shipping Canal, a waterway that divides Houghton and the neighboring city of Hancock. Saw members of the Michigan Tech sailing club:





It looked like they were having a great time!

We hadn't gotten enough walking in while making our way up that steep hill back from dinner; no, the next day it was time to set out on foot again. This time, we were heading to the Porcupine Mountains Wildnerness State Park, near Ontonagon.

We've been to the "Porkies" many times before, and have hiked most of its 90+ miles of trails. But this jaunt would be just for fun. As it was going to be a hot, humid day, we planned on doing a short hike. Armed with water bottles and lunch (trail snacks from Keweenaw Co-op in Hancock), we set out toward the state park. As we'd done yesterday, we looked to see what has come and gone along the route. The biggest difference we noticed, besides a few more new businesses on the outskirts of Houghton, was the route changes in South Range and Ontonagon. Before, you drove through the commercial districts of both towns, now you drive past them if you're staying on the main road. Bummer - I always like going through small towns, just to see the houses and businesses there.

The Porcupine Mountains, at least, are the same: forests, rivers, hills, waterfalls, and the Lake Superior shoreline. The latter would be our destination for lunch.

A few pics:

We started out on the Pinkerton Creek Trail, which connected to the Lake Superior Trail. 

Lunchtime along Lake Superior. Although there were several cars parked at the Pinkerton Creek trailhead, we saw no other people on this hike. 

We returned on the same route we'd taken, which led to this photo of Pinkerton Creek:

Very typical scenery for the Porkies. I was glad Pinkerton Creek  had a footbridge for its crossing. I'd been on many a watery crossing in the park that involved stepping on wet stones or cautiously navigating on logs several feet above a river. I always feared falling off one of those logs; although I can swim, I didn't relish getting wet in my hiking clothes and boots. Thankfully, that never happened!

This day's hike was only six miles. Back when we were much younger, over 30 years ago, our hikes here were much longer distances and often included rugged terrain. We can still recall the Memorial Day weekend hike of 1988. Like this most recent hike, it was abnormally hot and humid, but that didn't stop us from hiking 16 miles. The excursion included going up to the 1,850 feet Government Peak, second highest point in the park. My husband's brother had come with us and he insisted after that climb that he would die of hydration. But he's still around. 

The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park does have a few niceties that it didn't have in the earlier years of our visits: a bigger visitor center, a folk school, an artist-in-residence program (we saw past works from this program on display at the visitor center), and a music festival. But I don't think much else has changed over the years - it's still a great place to visit, whether you want a challenging hike or an easier one. Well worth the travel time from Houghton! (over an hour)

In my next post I'll talk about what we did on the rest of our vacation.   

 











Friday, September 15, 2017

Thrifty Acres: An Oldie But Goodie

Hello! I first did yoga in the mid-to-late 1980's, using a paperback book I'd gotten at a rummage sale. The book was already quite a few years old then. I don't recall why now, but eventually I stopped doing yoga, and so donated that book to a thrift store. 

Yoga's now become trendy, and so I come across books devoted to this practice quite often at secondhand markets. I've purchased a few of these books, and while they were nice to work with, I often found myself confused by the directions. And it wasn't always exactly clear what progress I could hope to make over time.  I missed the step-by-step instructions that were the foundation of the book I'd once had. 

Came across a copy of that years-ago yoga book at a fundraiser garage sale a few weeks ago, so I eagerly snatched it up:

Richard Hittleman's Yoga 28 Day Exercise Plan. This book was first published in 1969, but my edition came out in 1973. Some reviewers on Amazon.com say that the book is still in print! 

The cover photo shows some color, but inside, demonstrations of the poses look like this:

That's right, all the poses were photographed in black and white - no color shots of the model clad in various examples of coordinated yoga clothes. No props such as straps or blocks either: you just stretch as much as you comfortably can. 

The program is set up in a progressive way, with each day building on what was learned on previous days. The photos of the poses, and the accompanying descriptions, are very helpful. To reinforce the lessons, every four days a review session is given.  There's also a brief essay at the end of each day's practice ranging from nutrition advice, to how to judge one's progress, and to how yoga can help arthritis sufferers. 

And how has this yoga work helped me thus far? Well, with my latest go-round of using this book - I'm on day 19 - I do feel less  "creaky" and more limber than I had before I started the routine. My back doesn't feel as tight. I've been sleeping very well too. So all in all, pretty good results in less than three weeks.

I'm glad I found this book again at that garage sale. Maybe I've learned a lesson: instead of falling for something flashier, stick to an oldie but goodie!