Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Summer Solstice!

June 21st, the longest day of the year. This day used to be my absolute favorite day of the whole summer as a kid. You could play outside until at least 9:00pm and it would still be light out. Nothing better. In my neon shorts with my matching neon t-shirt and neon sunglasses, bare feet and hardly combed hair. 

We used to love to play outside. From sunup to sundown pretty much. We would make up all sorts of games. We would play house in the field by our house. We set up a racetrack that ran around our driveway, down to the end of the road and back. Sometimes we would just scream at the top of our lungs as loud as we could, just because we could since we were outside. I remember the day that Stephen, the neighbor boy, jumped off the top of the swingset and knocked himself out cold. He was never all that smart, but he would play with us everyday, pretty much. Pat and Chris would join in the fun, and sometimes even Kevin, but he usually was doing his own thing.

Most of these memories come from our house on Mt. View Drive. We moved there when I was six (I think) and didn't leave until I was past 16. We had a huge amount of land to play on. There were pear trees across the street that we would go and eat pears from in August. I remember one year we even canned them with Mom. Then we had pears all through the winter.

We had the most beautiful gardens on Mt. View Drive. The people who owned the house before us did a lot of it, but my parents worked hard every summer to keep it up. I remember the year that I grew sunflowers in the back by the fence at the end of the brick pathway my Dad put in. I was so proud that they grew taller than me. I remember when he built that pathway. I remember walking with him down to the end of the road with the wheelbarrow to get bricks and bring them back and helped him build it.

And I remember my Dad setting up an area for me to practice for track. He would race me, so that I would have someone to push me. I remember the year that I beat him, and for real beat him, not like he let me win. I think I was 10 or 11 at the time.

I remember the baseball diamond at the end of the street. They would have games there sometimes, but I mostly remember going down there with my Dad. He would pitch to me, and he would hit balls for me to field. He was always busy, but he would often drop whatever he was doing and play ball with me if I asked him to.

And I remember laying out on a blanket under the locust tree in the back with my Mom and sisters on summer afternoons. We would nap, or read a book, sometimes Mom would read to us. The smell of locust trees still remind me of that house and those times on the blanket under the tree.

I do have some memories from our house on Hallwood Court. The fun thing about living there was that there we tons of other kids to play with. And our backyard backed up to three other peoples backyards, none of whom had a fence. So it was like one HUGE backyard. And Jenny, who lived next door, had a play house, and a swingset. And we had a swingset and a sand box. And we lived on a court, so I could ride my bike all around without getting hit by a car or having to ride it over steps (like I had to at the townhouse before that).

I remember when Mom and Dad told me we were moving into a house, I told Dad I wanted a swingset and a sand box. He just looked at me and gave me a thumbs up. But then, when we moved in, we did get a swingset! With a slide and two swings and a set of rings. And I remember that a bunch of my uncles came to help my Dad put it up for us soon after we moved in. And I fell jumping rope that day and skinned my knee. I still have that scar. I got a popples bandaid to put on it. Which was very uncharacteristic for my family. We never had things like popples bandaids. I think that's why I remember it so well.

And I remember going to my Grandma's house for a week many summers. Since we lived so far away, it was a huge treat to get to stay with her for a whole week. She let us eat ice cream every night and she would always get us candy at the grocery store. There was an old chicken coup (which is no longer standing) that we used as a play house. Michelle and Greg and I would play house in there for hours on end. Using all sorts of things for furniture. You can find a lot of cool stuff on the farm. And there were horses, Paula would get them out and let us ride them most times. And we could feed them apples from the apple tree. 

One of the things I remember most vividly about Grandma's house was how many lightning bugs there were. I mean, there were a TON! I think it must be too cold in Buffalo for lightning bugs, because there were never very many. I could spend hours catching them and putting them in a jar, just watching them light up.

And, we got to sleep on the mattress. In the living room. What a treat. Grandpa would usually fall asleep in his chair with the TV on, so we would sit up and watch TV until our little eyes couldn't stay open anymore.

I've been working at Children's hospital recently. It's been fun, but I think most importantly it has helped me to appreciate the childhood that I had. One Mom, one Dad who both loved us beyond anything that we could ever comprehend. There was never any pressure to do this or to do that. We were just allowed to be kids.

The older I get the more I appreciate my parents and all that they have done for me. I have so many happy memories of summer time, these are just a few. Happy Summer everyone:)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Landscaping, DONE!

Since this is our last weekend at home for quite awhile, we devoted ourselves to getting the finishing touches on the landscaping done. And I finally have photos of all of our hard work coming together:) We will likely end up doing more planting next year, but we did quite a bit this year and I want to see how things do and how they look next year. I don't want to overplant, so next year we can fill in the gaps as needed.

First thing was first. Yesterday we cleaned out all the brush and weeds and crap that were growing on the side of our house. We cleared it all and then put in a little stone path. On the end you can see we removed one of the planks from our fence, that's so we can have a hose on both sides of the fence. Now we can water our plants out front without having to make 500 trips with a watering can.

Also in the front, I wanted to post a picture of the very front bed. We finished planting this early this week. There is some woodland phlox - that is what most of it is. I'm hoping that next year it will fill in and sort of start to drape over the front of the bed. In the very front are some annuals that our neighbor Don down the street gave us. He is a huge gardener and is always giving stuff out like that, They have pretty purple flowers on them.

This is Charlie's vegetable garden, which is doing better than I think either of us really thought it would. We may even have some vegetables this year. But I don't want to speak too hastily. At least the basil is doing well, I love pesto in the summer time:)

This is the backyard without all of the crap all over it. Nice and peaceful, which is what I was going for.

I also swept out the area next to the house. I don't know if I've ever done that since we've moved in. It looks a lot better though.

Thank goodness it cooled off. It was so hot in our house and the a/c is broken. Someone is coming by next week to look at it, and it looks like it's going to stay pretty cool until then, so I think I'll make it:)

That's all for today. I just wanted to post some pictures of the final product of our landscaping. We're going to go brew some beer now. A nice summer ale. You all should come visit so you can try some:)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Coming Home...

Phew! It has been almost a month since I last wrote in here. Things have been crazy. Also, Charlie has been home so I have less time to be introspective and sit down and write. I stay a lot more busy when he is around.

We've continued to work on our garden and landscaping, and it is pretty much done now, which is really exciting. I wanted to get most of it finished before we left for vacation so that things didn't get out of hand as far as weeds and stuff went while we were gone. We finished the little raised bed in the back and Charlie decided to plant some vegetable plants there. The only thing he has ever really wanted in a garden is a vegetable garden. We have tried in vain at each house we have lived at, including this one. I agreed to let him have one more shot at it this year - we raised the bed so there is better soil and more sunlight, and he took a chainsaw to George's honeysuckle tree/bush that was covering a large part of our patio. We'll see how it goes. He's got basil, jalapeno peppers, green and yellow peppers, zucchini, cucumber and tomato plants. Meanwhile my basil, cilantro and parsley are doing well in pots, and I have some tomato plants in pots on the side of the house as well. If all these turn out we will have tomatoes out the wazoo. That is OK, maybe I'll learn how to can them. I'll post pictures of that later on...

We also just got back from Peru. I love coming home after vacation. One think that I think travelling really does do is help  you to appreciate how much you like living where you do, at least for me. We spent 10 days in Peru, it was awesome, but I'm happy to be home.

We flew in on Friday night, late and stayed in Lima, Peru for that first night. That night we went to the hotel bar and had a few pisco sours (sort of tastes like a margarita) and met some interesting people. A Mexican man that had been living in Germany for the last 30 years and worked for Siemens. A lawyer from Nepal, and a Chicago businessman who I quickly realized had a prostitute with him. We had fun talking and then went to bed. Saturday we flew to Cusco, Peru, which is at about 11,100 feet above sea level. We stayed at a place called WalkOn Inn, and spent two days enjoying Cusco. They had a lot of very pretty churches, and in general a fair amount of history, as it was the capital of the Incan empire waaaay back in the day.
Our friends our first night in Lima
The courtyard at our hostel in Cuzco
Plaza de Armas in Cuzco

Inside the Jesuit church and cloister

The local beer

Cathedral at night

This is a sort of blurry picture of the altar at the cathedral in Cuzco

Charlie in the Plaza de Armas

Inside the San Pedro market

Me in my llama sweater at Los Perros

On Monday at 5:00AM we were picked up from our hostel and taken by bus to Ollantaytambo to start the Inca trail. Charlie and I were the only two who elected to carry all of our belongings on the trail, and our packs seemed huge compared to everyone else's. Anyways, the first day was an easy 5 miles, not too much up hill not too much down hill and plenty of rests stops to learn about the different cacti and wildlife that were around. We had porters with our group to carry the food, tents, etc. These little men were amazing! They carried at least their own body weight in supplies and the would literally RUN by us. They went so much faster than us it was incredible. But the local people were the same way. They would wrap up whatever they wanted to carry in a colorful blanket, tie the ends of the blanket around their shoulders and off they went.
Our whole group on the first day

the porters and their bags

This is where we camped the first night. The roosters started crowing at about 2:30 am
The food they served was actually really good. Three hot meals a day, made by the cook, who used to be a porter but then went to culinary school. We had pizza, cake, pancakes, eggs, rice, quinoa, pork chops, you name it. All very good, especially after a long day of hiking. 

On the second day we climbed to the highest point along the Inca trail. At over 14,000 feet in elevation, Winay Wayna was not an easy climb. We started out OK, but then the higher you get the more breaks you need. It was like every 10-15 steps you'd have to stop and catch your breath. After that we went down, down, down, down to about 11,000 feet again and camped for the second night. It was COLD that night. Very cold. It gets dark there at like 6:00 PM, so we would usually eat dinner and then go to our tents and go to bed. I usually couldn't sleep that early, but it was so cold you didn't want to be anywhere but in your sleeping bag anyways.

At the highest point along the trail

The third day was the longest at 10 miles. We had two smaller climbs, but it was mostly downhill which got REALLY old by the end. However, we did see several Inca sites along the way that day and by the time we got in around 5:30 we were absolutely exhausted. However, at our campsite that day there was a restaurant that served cold beer (for S/.15, which is like $5 each, which is a HUGE rip off in Peru, however enjoyable) and had bathrooms with a toilet! Woohoo!!!!!

The last day was an easy 3 miles, mostly downhill (which sounds nice, but by this point my quads were so sore I had to go down sideways). We got up super early in the morning so that we could see the sunrise over Macchu Picchu. Our guide took us around the city and showed us all the important parts. It really was fascinating. The Inca's only used the city for about 50 years, and it took about 30 years to build. When they abandoned it they were still adding more and more to it. It was considered a sacred city, as it was surrounded by the four glacier topped mountains that they worshiped as great protectors of the Inca people. Their religion was based on a trinity, similar to Christianity, but they had the underworld where you went after you died (represented by a snake), the present world (represented by a puma) and the heavens where the gods lived (represented by a condor). They also worshiped the sun, moon, and stars, and worshipped the mountains around them as great protectors. Mother Earth was called Panchamama, which was also very important to them. When the built the city, they built it around the big boulders, as they never moved them out of respect for Panchamama. Their stone work is incredible, I can't even imagine how long it would take to build temples with such intricately placed stone.

Our group at the Sun Gate overlooking Macchu Picchu

Llama inside Macchu Picchu

When the Spanish conquistadores came, the women and children left Macchu Picchu for Vilcabamba, the last Incan stronghold, and the men stayed behind. They burnt all the bridges leading to it. However eventually they ran out of food and also deserted the sacred city. Hiram Bingham found it in 1911 with the help of a local farmer, and it has been a tourist attraction since then. It's amazing, really, that it was kept a secret for so long. They continue to find Incan ruins in the jungle, the last big discovery was two years ago. As our guide told us, "The jungle, it has many secrets."

The stone work. Incredible.

So, after four days of no shower, no toilets, and no bed to sleep in, we were back to Cuzco. And our hostel did not have hot water. None. Ugh. But the following day (Friday) we flew into Lima, and the Doubletree there DID have hot water. And comfy beds. And I don't think I have ever been so dirty in my whole life:)

Friday afternoon in Lima we went to the Larco museum. They had a ton of pottery as well as textiles from the  various people that have inhabited Peru. One thing that was really interested about the Inca's is that as they conquered other people, they really assimilated their knowledge and their strengths and used them to their advantage. Some of the peoples were really good at medicine, others astronomy, others pottery, etc... And you could really see how things evolved as time went on, it was pretty cool.

Saturday we went to Central Lima and saw some more churches, plazas, etc. In churches all over Peru they have an obsession with Mary. She is at the center of most of their churches, religious artwork, etc. They had a correlation between her and Panchamama or Mother Earth, which is really quite evident in some of their works. But it is interesteing. You have Mary, dressed to the T with these elaborate gowns (real cloth!), fake hair, and the like. Not a statue made entirely of marble, but more like a big expensive Barbie doll. They have statues of her, and lots of pictures that depict her life and death, as well as a lot of stuff that focuses on the Holy Family and Joseph, which I feel like we don't see much in North American Catholicisn.

Inside St. Dominic's in Lima

In the courtyard at St. Dominic's cloister

Plaza de Armas in Lima

St. Dominics

Blurry pic of Mary dressed to the nines with her wig on. Best I could do with no flash

Cathedral in Lima

Outside the Larco Museum in Lima

Blurry again, but this is baby Jesus in his military garb
We left that night and made the long flight home. Luckily I slept most of the time. And we are now home, I'm back at work today. It is good to be home. Our gardens didn't look too bad, I did do some weeding yesterday after I got home. The comforts of home are nice, and it is the best part of summer in the midwest - not too hot, but warm enough that you can sit on your back patio all night without a coat or sweater on. Soon enough it will be too hot:)

Charlie goes back to work on Wednesday. It has been nice having him home, but with him gone I'm sure I will update this more, so I guess that is a good thing:)

"You got here...
All the way from your beautiful country...
It is a huge accomplishment...
Once in a lifetime...
For some...
Enjoy it in the full...
This is just one of the tasty moments your
Life will give you. How luck we are!!!!!"
- This was on the menu at Los Perros, 
the restaurants we ate at the second night we were in Cuzco