Big News!

After years of thinking about it I’m finally moving back to the city of my birth, exchanging the farmhouse by the falls for Apartment 6C. All things must come to an end, and while it will be heartbreaking to leave my little paradise on the Potomac, it’s time to start a new chapter. I hope you all will move along with me by following my other blog, About Change, which will become my primary platform. Thanks to all of you who inspired me to bare my life and my heart. Namaste!

Holiday Greetings

Happy Winter Solstice to all! No matter your faith or lack thereof, the official start of winter (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere) brings a chance to regroup and become grounded in preparation for a burst of new growth as the hours of daylight increase day by day.

With Christmas only three days away, I know many of you are becoming

IMG_1094and instead of feeling like IMG_1089
you are feeling like

IMG_1088because you have been decorating the tree

IMG_1092cleaning up the yard in preparation for lights, camera and Santa action

IMG_1086Wrapping presents

IMG_1090and baking lots of goodies.

2013-06-16 20.42.05But take a deep breath, and remember, that the greatest holiday gift of all is

PEACE

PEACE

To my Jewish friends, Happy Hanukkah and to all of my readers, I wish you health, happiness and peace in the New Year.

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How to be Your Own Travel Agent

Planning a travel adventure isn’t the mysterious process it used to be before the Internet made a wealth of information available to anyone with connectivity. Ideally, your planning should happen roughly four months before your trip to reap the best deals and guarantee availability. Here are my tips and tricks for getting the most out of your next trip, broken down into parts. I recommend that you read them in order, but feel free to skip ahead.

  • Step One: Establish your vacation vision / travel personality
  • Step Two: Purchase airline tickets
  • Step Three: If required, acquire visas / inoculations/medications
  • Step Four: Refine the pace/scope of your travel
  • Step Five: Research transportation at and between destinations
  • Step Six: Book your accommodations
  • Step Seven: Explore sightseeing/day trip opportunities and book ahead where necessary
  • Step Eight: Figure out what to pack

Continue reading

Summer CSA Stirfry

 

This week our  CSA (community supported agriculture) share included garlic scapes, carrots and a beautiful fresh cabbage.  What else to do but stir fry!  Here’s what I did:

Tossed julienned carrots, one inch garlic scape sections, fresh minced garlic, half an onion chopped, chicken tenders cut into one inch pieces in canola oil with a splash of hot chili oil and a sprinkling of cayenne powder for good measure.  I made sure that everything was in one layer and on high heat in my awesome 15 inch Calphalon pan. (I don’t have a wok).

 

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Next I washed and chopped half a giant cabbage into rough one inch strips and threw them in after the first ingredients had browned and become transparent.  I splashed in some rice vinegar to add some zing and some moisture, stirred like crazy, and for the last few minutes put the lid on.

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When everything was tender but not at all close to slimy, I added some sweet chili sauce from Trader Joe’s.

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And then Mr. D and I served it up and ate it!  Nom Nom Nom.

 

What Worked and What Didn’t on Our SE Asia Trip

Overall, I think the research I did and the fabulous advice I found from so many smart travelers helped me to have a stress free carry on only trip.  So here is the round up:

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1)  My Osprey backpack was terrific.  I carried it on my back easily, hoisted it up into the airplane bin easily, packed and repacked it easily, and never had it weighed after the first flight with Turkish Airlines.  I think the people at the check-in counters just figured that a tiny little old lady with a backpack probably couldn’t carry more than the allotted 7 or 8 kgs.

2) Packing cubes are the bomb. ‘Nuf said.  Or perhaps I should phrase that differently for security personnel ;-0

3) The luggage scale was indispensable at home because it made me ditch lots of things which I never really missed anyway.  Admittedly, we never used it after we left home.

4) My three smartwool shirts (one short sleeve black and two bright colored tanks) worked as advertised, although I must say that the black tee was the most useful.  The weather was unseasonably chilly in both Hong Kong and Hanoi and that shirt got one heck of a lot of wear. And I never washed it.  And it never smelled.  And it didn’t itch. The tanks . . . meh. Once we hit warm sunny places I actually wanted more coverage and didn’t wear tank tops at all. So, bottom line, I just ordered another Icebreaker short sleeve tee in grey from Moosejaw (on sale, natch) and a super lightweight 3/4 sleeve merino v-neck in ballet pink from J Crew (also at a steal).  I’m totally convinced that merino wool in a fine gauge works for both hot and cold temps and packs and wears like a dream.

5) The rayon long sleeve T was a lifesaver, mostly because of the chilly temps early in the trip, but if I had it to do again I would take the new J Crew merino instead.  The button up tunic blouse, not so much. I really didn’t use it.  The Coolibar sarong was a great idea, and would be more useful if we had done more beach time.  So, no regrets, but it didn’t get as much use as I thought it would. My bathing suits worked out fine, but we didn’t swim as much as we thought we might on this particular trip.

6) Most worn item:  the Adea white tee shirt.  Loved it.  Cool, non-smelly, great coverage but stylish fit, washed that sucker out day after day and it was dry in a matter of hours with no wrinkles.  I immediately ordered four 3/4 sleeve shirts when I got home, only two of which were on sale, which tells you how much I love the brand since I hardly ever pay full price for anything.  The feel of this fabric on the skin is to die for, the fit is oh so Italian designer, and the care is easy peasy.  I could do an infomercial on this brand!

7) Pants: the Lululemon travel/bike-to-work/dry-quick grey pants were AWESOME.  Wore them constantly in heat or cold. The Athleta taupey haremish pants were perfect, but I am a little concerned that they won’t last. Only wore the Kuhl shorts one or twice, but they were comfy and fit great. I much preferred wearing the yoga cropped tights out in public in warm weather places. I only wore a skirt once in Cambodia.

8) My hat was a great success, and totally necessary once we left Hanoi. Best part–it smushed down in whatever shape to fit into my pack and then could be reformed (the wire in the brim meant it didn’t flop). And, it fit my rather small head and stayed on even in gusts. And of course, sunglasses both prescription and regular, were essential.

9) I really didn’t need the Prana yoga top.

10) All of the shoe choices were great.  No blisters. Lots of walking in each pair. Felt stylish and not clunky. Win.

11) Ex Officio underwear is everything everyone says it is.  I bought two more pair on sale when I got home as I have discovered they are the best for yoga and the gym too–no panty line and (ahem) no stink. Plus they dry in an instant.

12) My Patagonia Nanopuff jacket was indispensable.  Not only for the chilly times, but wadded up as a pillow on the plane (we took nine flights in all). And it took up no space in either my purse or my backpack.

13) The Athleta SPF50 white ruched v neck coverup and my  Blockshop Textiles scarf were the most used items, providing layers, sun or wind protection, style, all the while keeping me cool when that was important, skin cancer free we hope, or warm when necesary. I can’t say enough about either one.

14) Tech-wise, I never used the new camera tripod.  It was bulky and I hadn’t practiced before the trip. We didn’t need the voltage converter because all of our electronics did that themselves.  Those two items were heavy.  We never bothered to get phones in Vietnam, but I will get a new iPhone 5 or 6 before our next international trip so we can use SIM cards. Best tech tip:  Get Tunnelbear. I never felt compromised using public wifi in hotels or cafes or airports. It’s worth it and very reliable. My RFID tiny wallet was also great for peace of mind.

15) TSA was fine with my scissors — both the small kid ones and the sewing kit ones.  Hong Kong balked at the kid ones, measured them and let me pass. Danang security took the sewing scissors. No one cared about liquids. Sometimes I had to take my shoes off, sometimes I didn’t.  Moral of the story: you never know. Every checkpoint is different.

16) My J Crew purse was terrific for flights because I could stuff so much into it (camera, liquid 1 quart bag, guidebook, IPad, chargers). Outside of Hong Kong I didn’t carry it but instead used a fabric carryall that folded into a tiny pouch.  Why? Best not to be carrying an expensive leather bag in places where that seems first-world extravagant.

I have a lot to say about toiletries, cosmetics, medications, etc. but I’ll save that for the next post.

What I’m Packing for Three Weeks in Asia

One of the first bits of research I did involved choosing a carry on.  I vowed to travel light, as I always had back when I was a twenty something and exploring the world. After our trip to the West Coast this October, when I had mailed half of what I had packed home midway through, I was done with checking luggage and using space bags that ended up weighing the equivalent of kettle bells. Time for a reset.

I found a wonderful site that led me on the path to what I hope will be carefree plane, train, boat and bus travel: TravelFashionGirl. Also, there are numerous YouTube videos showing what (and how) a variety of male and female backpackers and other travelers packed for their journeys.  Yes, most were twenty somethings, and included items like denim booty shorts that this “lady of a certain age” will not be including in her wardrobe.  But with a bit of adaptation I put together a stylish, functional kit.  No white sneakers or baggy cargo pants with too many pockets, zippers, straps and horrible fabrics for me! 

What am I packing?

1)  Osprey 46L backpack. It meets airline carry on regulations, opens like a suitcase instead of from the top, is comfy to wear from plane to hotel (its not intended for heavy duty backcountry hiking) and is simple in design.  You can see a video review here.

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                                           Osprey 46L Porter

2)  Packing cubes. Not only do they separate your items by type, they hold an amazing amount of stuff in ventilated little packets. You can watch a how to video on using them here. 

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3)  Luggage scale. This seemed kind of silly at first, until I realized that Vietnam Airlines required carry ons to weigh no more than 7kg (or roughly 15 pounds). What a challenge it has been to whittle down to that!  While it seems unlikely that my backpack will actually be weighed, I don’t want to have to decide what to throw away while standing in the check-in line with lots of people yelling at me in a foreign language.

4)  Smartwool. I was like, “huh?” when I first read about smartwool in the tropics, but I am a convert. After all, those sheep in New Zealand live through hot summers, right?  A company called Icebreaker makes really wonderful things that are 150 weight, are guaranteed not to be itchy or hot, do not wrinkle, wash in the sink and dry quickly, provide natural SPF protection, and (this is key) do not smell.  Lots of travelers swear by these as insulation layers in the cold and stand-alones in the heat.  I got a black tee shirt and two tank tops in bright colors. And they came with info about the actual sheep who provided me with the wool!!!!

5)  Sun protection. For me this was essential.  I got a sarong in a cute print from the SPF specializing company Coolibar that can double as a scarf, beach towel, blanket, etc. I bought a great sun hat at Athleta, along with a white SPF 50 mid-thigh length beach cover-up/hoody.  I can also wear that as an extra layer for cool evenings or sails in Halong Bay.  I have a white rayon long sleeve tee and a white rayon button up collared shirt/tunic to throw on when visiting temples or just plain getting fried in the sun.  Both are lightweight, but provide some additional protection.  And of course I have a pair of cute long rayon pants from Athleta to cover my legs in the heat and for temple visits where modesty is expected. 

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                                   Giddy Up!

6)  Layers. Istanbul (where we have a layover) will probably be in the 50s, Hong Kong in the 60s and 70s during the day, Hanoi ditto and then hot from Hoi An to Siem Reap. I calculate I need to be ready for as much as a 50 degree temperature swing!  That means layers.  Everything I have coordinates with bottoms in basic colors like grey, navy and taupe and tops in white, grey, black and a few brights thrown in for good measure. Scarves add color, sun protection, modesty and warmth when needed. I can layer to my heart’s content, up to my Patagonia nanopuff jacket, which folds up into its own pocket when not needed.

7)  Wash and wear, ie quick dry. EVERYTHING.  Including undies from Ex Officio, yoga capris and skinny pants from Lululemon, a mid-calf skirt from Athleta and the aforementioned items. 

 8)  Sensible shoes.  One pair flip flops, one pair mesh and suede ballet flats from Patagonia, and my trusty Dansko sandals.

 So, here is the complete list:

 

2 pairs long pants (pinky taupe and grey)

1  pair black yoga capri tights

1 white Prana tank as an underlayer and for yoga

1 white long sleeved tee

1 white button up shirt, tunic length

1 white SPF hoodie

3 cap sleeve tees (black, grey, white)

4 tank tops with full coverage in back and high cut in front and good bra strap coverage (azalea, turquoise, pale yellow, pale pink — two are smartwool from Icebreaker and two are Italian miracle fabric from Adea.  I don’t think I really need all four but I want to see which ones I use the most).

1 navy skirt

1 pair water resistant shorts from Kuhl (you can get them at REI or Title Nine)

2 bathing suits

1 SPF sarong

1 sun hat

2 pairs socks (one Icebreaker to wear on the plane — my feet always get cold) and one pair quick dry biking socks for whatever)

5 undies

2 bras

1 pair flips flops

1 pair ballet flats

1 pair sandals

1 jacket

2 scarves (one very lightweight to dress up tops when going out and one Block Shop Textiles mango chevron pattern for warmth, sarong wear, whatever BECAUSE I LOVE IT.

 As for wearable items — that is it!!!

NEXT:  Electronics and Security

 

 

Southeast Asia, Here I Come!

It’s been an interesting winter here at Farmhouse by the Falls.  Cold, snowy, with little progress on some of the home improvement projects that were on the docket. And, obviously, blogging has been as much on the back burner as my tea kettle. 

So what has Ms. D been up to?  Planning a three-week jaunt to Southeast Asia!

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Once the Christmas holidays were over and trips back and forth to New Jersey were behind me, I settled in to do the research necessary to plan the trip.  It is really quite astonishing how much information there is available online, and how all-consuming it can become to read reviews, watch YouTube videos, find new bloggers and work out an itinerary that has the right mix of adventure and comfort, luxe and budget, urban and rural, culture and beach chill, on the go and off the grid. 

I’ve wanted to make this trip for a decade.  My brother Aubrey lives and works in Hong Kong and the Philippines and has been patiently waiting for one of my travel promises to become reality.  Money was always tight, my ex never expressed any interest in the trip, and my teaching schedule meant arriving during the monsoon season.  Now that I am retired and with Mr. D (not my “I’d rather sit in the local bar” ex), travel is a priority.  What a difference it makes to have a partner who craves new experiences as much as I do!

I bought our tickets to Hong Kong last September, but the rest of the itinerary was left open.  We assumed that we would spend time in Palawan with Aubrey, but the typhoon trashed the island airport, and he suggested that we find other options.  That opened up so many possibilities that it was hard to choose, but we settled on Thailand and Cambodia.  I spent several weeks learning everything I could about what to do in Thailand, down to choosing places to stay, but I wasn’t quite ready to click “Reserve”. Troubling reports about political unrest became more frequent, and by late January we decided to go to Vietnam instead. 

 This shift in plans created a few interesting wrinkles.  First, Thailand is HOT.  So is Cambodia, which we still planned to visit. Northern Vietnam, at least in March, is not.  Given that we had already decided to travel with only carryon backpacks restricted to roughly 15 pounds, this meant a slightly different mix of clothes.  Which led to the obsessive search for just the right things to take, perusing the advice of savvy backpackers and travellers around the Interwebs.  Second, this meant a whole new search for accommodations, transportation options, tours, etc.

Over the next few days before we leave, I’ll share with you all of the wisdom I’ve accumulated, and, with some luck, I will blog our trip (or at least Instagram it) as we go, sharing not just our adventures, but the fabulous blogs and Vlogs I’ve discovered. I already feel like I have a whole new set of best friends as I follow these intrepid travelers in their wanderings!

Election Day

I voted early this afternoon in the cafeteria of the local elementary school. In my district I am in a minority.  I am a liberal Democrat, I live in an old farmhouse not a McMansion, I drive a twelve-year-old stick shift car not a humongous SUV.  A s I walk the gauntlet between my parked car and the entrance to my polling place, I am politely but fervently besieged by poll workers from eight to eighty offering sample ballots, mostly Republican salmon rather than Democratic blue. I don’t really need a sample ballot, or the information about the school bonds, but I take the blue paper and the bond flyer to be polite.  I always have an uneasy feeling as I do this, because the color of my sample ballot gives away my preferences.  My ballot is in some sense no longer secret. Each time the district results come in I consider moving.  As the northern part of my state has become more and more blue (and the state as a whole is classified as “purple”) I am still surrounded by huge lawn signs that in effect say “you are an outlier here.”

My own family is split, politically speaking. My sister and brother-in-law just drove home 14 1/2 hours straight in their giant RV in order to be sure to cast a vote for their Republican governor’s re-election. She and I have agreed that if we ever end up sitting on the porch together in our rockers, Mr. D and her husband six feet under, we will retire to separate rooms to consume our news. I don’t think she has ever listened to NPR, which to me is kind of like bragging that you’ve never met anyone who liked brussel sprouts. And I would have to be hog tied and gagged if I had to listen to Wayne LaPierre extol the virtues of semi-automatic weapons on Fox News.

When I stood in line today, showed my voter ID card, filled in the bubbles with my number two pencil, inserted the ballot into the scanner and received my “I Voted” sticker, I saw three people I knew at the polling place, and all three of them were carrying salmon sample ballots. I had no previous knowledge of their political leanings. I felt judged by them as they furtively eyed my blue ballot, folded neatly in half inside the nonpartisan school bond info sheet. And I suppose I judged them as well. Or, maybe I just felt that we lived in separate worlds as far as our imaginations are concerned.

You see, I think of myself as embracing the next phase of American History, one that I didn’t teach for thirty years and one which will come to full flower when I am truly a senior citizen and not just a retired but late middle aged baby boomer in skinny jeans. I’ve never understood teaching colleagues who were not progressives, because our craft so depends upon releasing the creative energy of a constantly changing mixture of young people trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. If I didn’t believe in the power of reason, experience and time I couldn’t have graded those thousands of essays or nurtured hundreds of students. I had to have faith in progress, of the future that they would create, not one that I would control. I’m OK with that.  Change is good.  Change is a constant.

After yoga tonight Mr. D and I will either drink champagne or cry in our beer. When I talk to my sister tomorrow we will chat about our father’s doctor visit, my elderly dog Sydney’s readjustment after his tripto my dad’s in New Jersey, her puppy’s latest teething disaster. We will not talk politics. 

I was born in New York City and I’m proud that my passport says New York, NY, the greatest city in the world. I have lived in Northern Virginia for nearly thirty years, and have deep roots here, but I often still feel like an outsider. Let’s hope that this and future elections change that.

Stanton NJ Station

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The train station in Stanton (the tiny part of Lebanon where my dad lives) has a colorful if unnerving history.  You can read about the nine hour ordeal of a Mr. Cannon in 1896 here. The station has been closed for many years, but while visiting this weekend I’ve heard the train whistle tens of times as it roared through.  It’s a comforting sound —  not close enough to be disturbing, but loud enough to evoke adventure and the movement of people and goods across the vastness that is this country. You can see a freight train roll through this bend and hear the whistle here. Here’s a piece of its history courtesy of the Hunterdon County Department of Parks and Recreation:

The Stanton Station Section is named after the passenger and freight train station that was once located a short distance away. Passenger service at the station was discontinued in the late 1930s and the station was abandoned. The building was purchased in 1943 by Robert and Hermia Lechner for $75 and transported to Echo Hill for use as a dining hall for their summer camp. The 1880 bridge near the parking area is one of the earliest metal truss bridges in Hunterdon County. It is unique because of its trussed floor beams that mirror the configuration above. The County acquired most of this land in 1975 as part of the South Branch Reservation. Today, the reservation totals over 1000 acres. Besides providing recreational opportunities, the reservation helps preserve the watershed along the South Branch of the Raritan River.

It’s been a trip down memory lane!!

Old School Foods of My Childhood

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I’m visiting my elderly father in Lebanon, New Jersey and this morning he asked me to cook up some scrapple for him.  Having foresworn mammal meat, let alone the kind of animal parts that make up this Pennsylvania Dutch staple — scraps — as in yucky pork stuff that isn’t good for anything else, I was happy to oblige him but not to share in eating it.  His weekday homemaker doesn’t know how to cook it (and maybe thought it was gross!).  I remembered that it needed to be floured and then pan-fried in butter until browned, but I looked on Google anyway to see what was recommended.  Indeed, my memory was correct, except often this pork product was pan-fried in lard or bacon fat — what a cholesterol bomb!  Some people serve it with maple syrup, but we always ate it with ketchup.  Dad was happy with his scrapple, one egg fried over easy, cider and homemade banana bread.  I was happy with coffee and the leftover apple cranberry pie we had for dessert last night.  I think I’ll leave scrapple on the scrap heap of memory.  If you are interested, here is a link that tells you just how gross scrapple is:  http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/dirty-jobs/videos/scrapple-maker.htm