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July Recap: first month on the road report

The little trip that we first envisioned as a fortnight’s drive across the country has now expanded into its second month.

Because we were busy getting the hang of things, as well as battling some patches of rainy weather, we’ve built up some good stories that haven’t made it to Your Milage May Vary yet. Here is a quick recap of where we were and what we got up to in the month of July.

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August 9, 2008   Comments Off on July Recap: first month on the road report

Mt. Washington Mill in pictures

After making the most of getting lost in Mt. Washington on July 19 with an unexpected afternoon of sightseeing, we got our directions right and crossed over to the correct side of the Jones Falls Expressway to discover Mt Washington Mill, a former 19th century industrial mill that has been renovated into an office / retail park.

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August 8, 2008   2 Comments

Chasing Weather as a Way of Life

Today we entered a whole new phase of our trip: we woke up, looked at each other, and said, “Where do we want to go today?”

No deadlines. No plans. No expectations.

All we knew was that we were leaving Baltimore and heading north in search of cooler weather.

To chart today’s course, we checked out the national weather report at weather.com, where we discovered predictions of high heat and thunderstorms for the south and west.

We didn’t want to spend 10 hours to drive all the way up to the deliciously cool 66 degree weather in Maine, so we headed for the closest cool spot in our general vicinity instead: northwestern Pennsylvania, where a comfortable 74 degrees was predicted for today.

After a brief detour to Bird-in-Hand Village, in the Amish area of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, for a rib-sticking late lunch (to call it hearty would be an understatement), we meandered along the back roads up to Pittston, just short of Scranton.

Pittston is currently cloudy and 73 degrees (and, for that matter, dark). The temperature is delicious.

We haven’t really traveled this way up until now. We’ve had people to see, things to do, and (free) places to stay. Today was our first day of absolutely open road. (Hooray!)

Knowing that we can go absolutely anywhere (in the continental US) feels really exciting. Knowing that we’re now paying for our accommodations after a month of being sheltered by our incredibly generous friends feels a little intimidating. Overall, the mixture averages out to feel pretty good.

It also feels strange to change gears from a “regular” life of schedules and deadlines to a life where we don’t have to rush. The sudden absence of social fetters is reminiscent of removing a cast or braces: it feels strange and new and very free to have all those weights and shackles fall suddenly away.

I am guessing that the adjustment we are going through is probably similar to what many people go through when they retire. On one hand, I hope we can get the hang of this quickly, and make the most of our wandering opportunities rather than fritter this trip away on turnpikes and highways. On the other hand, I hope we retain our sense of wonder at this strange new life for as long as possible.

Tonight we sleep in the charmless but affordable Knight’s Inn of Pittston, which has proven easy to find and satisfyingly clean. Tomorrow we check the national weather and set our course accordingly.

And the only question we need to answer is: “Where do we want to go today?”

August 5, 2008   7 Comments

Mt. Washington Village in (more) pictures

Mt. Washington was founded in the middle of the nineteenth century as a place to escape the oppressive conditions of the city. It was one of the first “street-car suburbs” of Baltimore, and housed some of Baltimore’s finer families, including the “Sage of Baltimore” H.L. Mencken1, during their summer escapes.

Mt. Washington Village certainly proved a lovely summer escape for us.

creek running through Mt. Washington
Creek running right alongside building in Mt. Washington


Store front garden on Smith Street in Mt. Washington


Colonial-styled water meter cover


Fountain at Baltimore Clay Works


Gaping clay head: every home should have one

Update

For more Mt. Washington pictures, see

  1. Mt. Washington Maryland: accidental tourist edition, and
  2. Mt Washington Mill in pictures
  1. Mencken was quite the man of letters, but is possibly most enduringly remembered for his coverage of the Scopes trial, the watershed 1925 legal battle over the teaching of evolution vs creationism. Mencken famously dubbed the case “the monkey trial”—and, like many other 20th century American cultural battles, the monkey trial is still being fought over and over again today. Several of Menken’s works are available online for free through Project Gutenberg. []

July 28, 2008   2 Comments

Free Range Hugs make my day

caption

Tonight we were back in Mt. Washington at Whole Foods (a natural food store) where the following conversation took place:

Neil and I are walking down an aisle past two clerks stocking and facing shelves.1

Me: I always thought grocery store shelves should be built like shelves in a research library, where they can be unlocked and rolled around, so that at night you could push them together and restock from the back. It would be way easier to reach the back of the shelf and rotate the stock to keep older products at the front and put new ones at the back.

Female Clerk: Me, too! That’s a great idea!

Me: I worked in a health food store years ago, and I used to restock, too, so I had lots of time to think about it.

F.C.: It takes so much time! And it’s so boring!

Me: If it makes you feel any better, ever since then, when I buy groceries, I always face the shelf as I go, and replace the products I’ve put in my basket.

F.C.: Me, too! Oh, can I give you a hug?

Me (used to hugs from total strangers): Sure!

(F.C. hugs me. Silent Male Clerk looks on amused. Neil, also used to me getting hugs from strangers, is completely unperturbed.)

F.C.: Oh, thank you! It is so nice to talk to someone who UNDERSTANDS!

Me: You know, I face my pantry at home when I take something off the shelf, too.

F.C.: Me, too! Me, too!

We then proceeded to bond over the horrors of restocking the freezer case, and of getting locked in the freezer case, with Neil winning the prize by contributing a story about walking in from the rain and getting frozen to the floor of a freezer case.

Getting hugs from total strangers is a genetic propensity I seem to have inherited from my mother. These sorts of things happen all the time to me. And they make my day!

It was an unexpected treat to get a hug from Whole Foods Girl today. Thanks, Whole Foods Girl, and happy stocking!

I’m emailing this post to my friends back at Nature’s Fare in Kelowna where I used to work, so I have to ask: how many people here with retail food experience face the shelves while you shop? How many face your pantry at home? And how many of you hug your customers?

Don’t tell me Whole Foods Girl and I are the only ones! Fess up!

Photo credit: “sometimes, a hug is all what we need” by Flickr user kalandrakas, as part of the Free Hugs Campaign

  1. The retail grocery term “facing” means to pull products to the front of the shelf. It probably comes from the library practice of aligning book spines evenly on the front edge of a book shelf, which goes by the same name. []

July 24, 2008   5 Comments

Non-Tourists on the Road Less Traveled

Sign Forbidding TourismOur current trip is not about vacationing.

We are in research mode, work-from-the-road mode, convalescent rest cure mode, extreme gadget testing mode…but very much not in tourist mode.

It’s something like “a movable feast” transformed into “a movable nap,” with a mad scientist thrown in for good measure.

Oddly enough, I have never been much of a tourist. I was able to accomplish a great deal of travel when I was young by studying and working in a range of locations, partly thanks to my interest in learning languages. I found that my experience of a place was significantly different if I was holding down a (local) job, shopping at the local grocery, and living as much as I could in the rhythm of local life than if I was visiting on a one-week sight seeing tour (to state the obvious).

Neil adds that he is likewise not fazed by changing places. Having grown up in an Air Force family that moved about a great deal, he gets his bearings quickly when he wakes up in a new place—just as quickly as “at home” in any rate. As you can see, for both of us “home” is a flexible concept, and that’s part of what makes this trip both possible and comfortable.

Our current trip so far is much more like my previous experience of extended contracts abroad. Except of course that the majority of people around us speak English, no one knows on sight that we are outsiders (they do seem to figure it out rather quickly though), and Neil’s job isn’t in a local place of business so we don’t have a built-in social network of local people.

Neil adds that we are “temporary regulars.” I agree. This echoes my experiences abroad, as well. Rather than passing through, we “live here,” wherever here is at the moment, even if we might not live here next week.]

We were on the phone with my parents last night, and another question we’re finding hard to answer is “what have you been doing lately”: because what we’ve been doing tends to be what we would be doing if we were at home, only we’re doing it somewhere else.

Of course, one of the main objectives of this trip is to play-test new locations to live. The best way to find out how we’d enjoy living somewhere is to replicate our daily life. Fortunately, we are very good at this and bring years of experience to the task.

The saying goes that a change is as good as a rest, and we’re certainly finding that transposing our regular life to random locations around the country is a lot of fun, and seems to be doing us a lot of good.

At the same time, with the exception of my papaya breakfast earlier this week, this trip hasn’t really felt so much like a trip at all, partly because we are fairly flexible, but mostly because we haven’t been especially touristy.

As the weather cools down towards the fall, as we build up a bit more health and energy for me, and as we fall into a new rhythm of “our life on the road,” I expect we will have much more energy and interest in excursions to museums and historic sites rather than just to natural food stores and vegetarian restaurants—in the same way that when the weather cools down and I have more energy when we are “at home,” we tend to get out and about a lot more.

(When you suddenly notice an upsurge in reports on tourist attractions and adventure tours, you’ll know that either my health has drastically improved or the temperature has dropped. (In a venn diagram, those two circles tend to overlap closely.) In the meantime, we’ll try to make our gadget reviews and experiment reports as useful and interesting as possible.)

If any readers have experience with working on the road, extended periods away from home, or other types of non-tourist long-term travel, we’re very interested in your stories and advice. The travel advice we come across seems designed for backpackers, or short term vacationers, or there-and-back business travelers, but not so much for people like us who are in a car, living on the road, and working full time (in Neil’s case).

We feel, ironically, like we are on the road less traveled, and without a map. If you have milestones or shortcuts, we would really love to hear about them.

We are always happy to ask other people for directions, if we can just find someone else who knows where we’re going.

July 24, 2008   8 Comments

Road Stories for Reading On The Road

A friend of mine just recommended that I read “The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America” by Bill Bryson:

“A real pleasure read makes me want to hop on my Harley which ain’t there no more and roar again across America.”

Now that’s a recommendation. I’ll definitely be tracking down Bill Bryson. (Thanks, PN!)

I’m really interested these days in books about travel, as well as books with a strong sense of place. I’m especially interested in books that come in ebook editions so we can load them onto our ebook reader, and in historical travel stories that are available for free in the common domain through sites like Project Gutenberg.

What other “travel” books, fiction or non-fiction, do you recommend? I care a lot less about “great books” and much more about “books you love.”

What road stories do you love to read on the road?

July 24, 2008   7 Comments

Mt. Washington Maryland: accidental tourist edition

We discovered the charming Baltimore, Maryland suburb of Mt. Washington completely by accident on Saturday. What started out as a simple grocery run turned into a delightful afternoon of walking around in the sunshine.

We took a wrong-turn (despite our GPS unit) on the way to Whole Foods, and wound up driving down multi-coloured street Sulgrave Avenue.

Who could resist an electric mandolin player? Not us!

Electric Mandolin Player

We stopped for a late lunch of marvelously decadent crêpes at The crêpe Du Jour.

I ordered “La Napoleon,” a savoury crêpe filled with sauteed mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and melted brie; and Neil completely indulged himself with the “Oriental crêpe Merguez” generously overflowing with lamb and beef sausage (presumably the eponymous merguez) with cumin, paprika, and oriental spices, along with Swiss cheese and egg.

When it came to the tempting desert crêpes, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was plumb filled up with lunch.

(Chef and Co-owner Moustapha Snoussi generously shares his crêpe recipe on the crêpe Du Jour website if you have a hankering for crêpes and you’re not close to Mt. Washington.)

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Mt. Washington in the sun, trying to walk off the crêpes, and all in all we had a glorious day.

(Yes, we did ultimately find the grocery store, too.)

Update

For more Mt. Washington pictures, see

  1. Mt Washington Village in (more) pictures and
  2. Mt Washington Mill in pictures

July 21, 2008   4 Comments

Gloriously Green Highways

gloriously lush green embankments of a Maryland highway

The lush green trees and bushes that line the highways of the mid-Atlantic states are absolutely beautiful: oak and sassafras; white ash and black cherry; yellow poplar and red mulberry; winterberry, inkberry, chokeberry, and sweet pepper bush.

Japanese friends once taught me a phrase that translates back to English something like “bath in green1,” meaning to go out into a beautiful verdant place and immerse yourself in nature.

Somehow, magically, the Transportation Departments in Virginia, DC, and Maryland have managed to make driving along state highways feel like a bath in green.

Neil and I were both astounded by the vibrant, vital green space that lines major roads in Virginia when we moved there in 2003. In fairness, we had been living in Texas, where a tree is as rare as a Democrat2. When we left the flat, dry, unshaded expanses of Texas we were positively thirsty for trees.

The broad leafy trees of the mid-Atlantic states are just as much a change from the the beautiful coniferous (needle-bearing) forests of British Columbia where I grew up, too.

The picture above, of a stretch of Maryland interstate highway we drove down on Friday, may not seem all that exciting to you—my limitations as a photographer are at fault, not the state of Maryland, I assure you. (Don’t worry, your monitor isn’t dirty: those streaks in the picture are (former) bugs on our windshield.)

These green-lined highways are just a pleasure to drive along. Thank you to whomever’s foresight made all this beautiful green space possible.

[This post is in response to a request from our friend Ian, who emailed me and asked “What does Baltimore look like?” Neither Neil nor I are shutterbugs and we’re trying to get into the habit of taking more pictures. In the meantime, if you would like a picture of anything in particular, please let us know! We’re happy to take requests.]

  1. I have forgotten the original Japanese words for “bath in green”. Does anyone happen to know what it is? []
  2. For our non-American readers, Texas is the adopted home state of Connecticut-born Republican George W. Bush, the birth place of Republican dirty-tricks strategist and Bush advisor Karl Rove, and the testing grounds of a lot of Republican political shenanigans before they are rolled out across the country. Trying to find a Democrat in Texas is a little like looking for an NDP supporter in Quebec, or a Green Party voter at an oil industry convention. Good luck. []

July 20, 2008   36 Comments

Breakfast papaya tastes like travel

This morning Neil and I shared a big papaya with lime juice for breakfast. That papaya tasted like travel. From the very first bite, it tasted like adventure. It tasted like sunshine and vitality and juicy orange vigor.

close-up of shiny black papaya seeds against the fruit\'s ripe orange flesh

Today, more than any other point in our first 19 days on the road, I finally feel like I’m on vacation. The papaya did it.

I can’t account for why or how the papaya worked its magic: maybe because the taste reminded me of previous trips to Hawaii (good) and Costa Rica (bizarre) where I ate papaya every day; maybe because Neil and I haven’t eaten a lot of papaya at home while we lived in Richmond; maybe the luscious ripe perfection of this papaya just shocked me into a Zen moment of lucid recognition of the reality around me like a two-by-four to the head in a Buddhist meditation hall.

Wow! We’re on vacation! This is really cool!

Note to self: start all future trips with papaya for breakfast.

[I should have taken a photo of our papaya, but by the time my brain cottoned on to the papaya’s enchantments, we had eaten the whole thing. The gorgeous papaya picture above is a Creative Commons licensed photo by Flikr user L*u*z*a.]

Are there any foods that work this travel magic for you? What tastes remind you of your favourite vacations? Do any foods jump start your “vacation feeling?”

And if you try our magic papaya breakfast trick on your next trip, let us know what happens. (Your milage may vary.)

July 20, 2008   4 Comments