Thursday, December 24, 2009

Peters Mountain

My visit home for the holidays included a lovely walk in the woods with my dad. We set out this afternoon to hike up the snowy north face of Peters Mountain, which cradles the mighty Susquehanna and provides glimpses of the rolling Pennsylvania countryside and busy transportation routes that hug the shores of the river. The few miles that we hiked were icy and spectacular, and the peak of Peters was abuzz with avian activity. We saw numerous Eastern Bluebirds, Chickadees, and even a lone Hairy Woodpecker—all unexpected rewards for reaching the top.

The Susquehanna
BBBFB at home in the hills
View from the south face
Up with the birds
Blending in

This stretch of trail, which I've ascended only once before, is part of the great Appalachian Trail. The AT is a fixture of wonderment for me, as I've long dreamt of trading the stability of a day job and cozy house for costly hiking gear and nights spent with strangers in the trail's famed lean-tos. The romance of walking from Maine to Georgia is a real draw, making it easy to overlook the tales of agony and burden on the trail told by both friends and writers. I credit Bill Bryson with nearly extinguishing my fire for hiking the AT. I'm certain that just one more read of his adventures on the trail would keep me at home for eternity. At least I can always return to Peters Mountain.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I have been anticipating the New England winter for weeks and this afternoon brought the season's first snow. It began lightly, so lightly that it would have gone unnoticed were it not for Liz stepping out to empty the kitchen compost. I joined her in the backyard to see for myself; the soft, white specs—barely visible—floated from a distant, nebulous origin. Up to this point, Texas has gotten more snow than southern New Hampshire. As we basked in the powdery fluff, I was overwhelmed with a combination of joy and relief, and for a short moment I was able to forget the unseasonably warm 50- and 60-degree weather of the week gone by.

It astounds me that skeptics of global climate change exist. I cannot imagine what ignorance is needed to believe that spring-like December days in Vermont and simultaneous snow showers in Texas are not a sign of what's to come. Senator James Inhofe leaves for Copenhagen in a few days to crash the climate convention. I can think of no better way to let the world know that you are a brain-dead tool.

One thing that Vermont and Texas naturally have in common is plenty of sunshine during the wintertime. This is a welcomed change from Pittsburgh winters, where snow is invariably accompanied by endless overcast, murky days, and where freshly fallen snow quickly turns to shade of brown and gray slush. That being said, Liz and I look forward to trying out some winter sports. We've been shopping for snowshoes and keeping an eye our for used cross-country skis.

Here are some photos of the gorgeous, sunny, snowy day in Walpole:

Back yard garden
View from the kitchen
Pasture blanketed in snow

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fall Mountain, Take II

Sunday was absolutely gorgeous, so we seized the opportunity for a second hike up Fall Mountain—this time with friends who knew where to go. It was easy to accept their invitation, given all of the heavy, rich foods we'd been eating. The five of us ascended with laughter and lively conversation, making it seem less like exercise and more like an outdoor, roving party. And the view! Well, here, see for yourself:

Bellows Falls
Connecticut River Valley
Charming Vermont
Can you guess which one of us might be crazy?
Liz, Kathy, Sandy, Valerie
Solo project

We could hear the roar of the Connecticut bursting through the dam, and though the photos aren't detailed enough to show it, we could see numerous popular ski mountains in the distance, including Mounts Snow, Okemo, and Ascutney. Needless to say, this is bound to become one of our regular hikes.


Had I been more on top of things and not in a turkey-induced daze, I would have photographed the 100 pierogi that Liz and I made out of our copious mashed potato leftovers. Western Pennsylvania is a hotbed of pierogi madness, and Pittsburgh in particular has a bevy of pierogi-makers—everyone from Polish grandmothers from the Orthodox Church to the famous McKees Rocks-based business, Pierogies Plus. It comes as no surpirse then that I've be a life-long lover of this Eastern European delight and have always intended on trying my hand at a homemade batch. There's nothing like a bountiful bowl of buttery potatoes to turn dreams into reality. We made roughly 75 potato/cheese/onion and 25 braised red cabbage pierogi. Some were given to friends, but the rest will be cooked up with sauerkraut, greens, and sausage over the coming weeks. Yum!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turkey and All

Liz and I hosted six friends for our first potluck Thanksgiving dinner, which required preparation of only the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and sweet potato casserole. In case you haven't considered the potluck approach, please accept my ardent endorsement; potlucking is far better than spending the better part of a day cooking a mammoth meal. In addition to our culinary contributions, we feasted on greens, baked leeks, pumpkin with almond custard, cranberry sauce, spiced pears, biscuits, avocado pie, and chocolate mousse with ginger cookies and a port berry sauce (yum!). Our fete was followed by a much-needed stroll about town. I think everyone had a good time despite the fear that I said or did something out of line (did I mention the copious wine-drinking and homemade hard cider?). Either way, dinner included the best locally raised turkey we have made to date and the leftovers will be even better! Below are some photo highlights from the evening, expertly provided by the lesser-known Miss Julia Roberts:

All ready
Bringing work home
Mister Kitty will not be forgotten
Carving Contest—Round I
Round II
Round III
Andrea wins!
Julia and Janet digest

I am incredibly thankful to have shared this lovely meal with friends.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rady and Wumma

I awoke this morning at 5:30 to prepare for my second hike up Mount Wantastiquet. Andrea and I had been talking for months about the hike and finally found some time to make it happen. I picked her up and we headed to Brattleboro, arriving while the top of the mountain was still visible from town. Though we started hiking at 7:00, I have no accurate idea of how long it took us to reach the top. Drizzle set in shortly after we began, landing on us and on the already saturated forest floor, which did not make for the best hiking conditions. There was plenty of water and mud to watch out for, not to mention perilous wet rocks and tree roots, but we soldiered on and found our way to the overlook, where we saw...nothing.

Quick shot of Brattleboro on the way up
A murky summit
Making the best of the poor conditions

Stuck in a giant cloud, we turned around and gladly headed back down the trail. Despite the unfortunate weather, it was a fabluous hike and great time spent with a close friend.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Another Weekend Working

The town of Walpole—with help from the local group TriVillage Energy—held its annual Thanksgiving farmers' market on Saturday and Liz and I arrived early to help set up. The weather was fabulous, allowing us to hold the market on the town green. There were roughly twenty vendors, selling everything from wine to maple syrup, so we purchased some foods for our upcoming feast. The community supported the event by coming out to buy local:

Once we wrapped up at the market, we met Andrea and Brendan and headed over to the warehouse for some serious construction work. We managed to get the grow room walls up, while our friends worked on insulating the incubation room.

Two rooms!
Inside the grow room
Hanging insulation
Andrea loves polystyrene
All work and no play...

Liz and I returned on Sunday to fill in the insulation cracks with spray foam and set up some of the shelves. There's a lot more work to do next weekend—at least we get a break with Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009

More Trekking

Liz and I set out early Thursday morning to hike Fall Mountain, which statuesquely ushers visitors from Bellows Falls into New Hampshire. Thanks to the telecom industry, the mountain features a wide road that leads to the top—and to a cell tower, which is fortunately not visible from street level. The road also serves as an excellent trail to what we thought was Table Rock, a well-known overlook that showcases BF and the Connecticut. We chugged up and out of the fog, reaching the summit in roughly 20 minutes, where we found an area that offered a partial view of the village and surrounding hills. Here are some photo highlights from the trip:

Liz leads
Rising above the clouds
At the summit

After discussing the hike with friends, we realized the error of or our ways in finding the observation area and are hoping to head back on Black Friday, weather permitting, for a second shot. Stay tuned for more pictures!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Needles and Pins

Three weeks ago, I decided to get over my fear of needles and give acupuncture a try. This is something that I've considered—but avoided—for many years now, knowing deep down that it probably holds great potential for treating my chronic ailments, namely Multiple Sclerosis and eczema/allergies/asthma (those last three must all be related, right?). Looking back, I'm not really sure what I was afraid of. Pain? The unknown? Success? The answer is most likely a combination of those possibilities.

After doing a light dietary cleanse (no sugar, wheat, caffeine, alcohol, dairy) for a week, I made an appointment at Watercourse Way to see what all of the fuss was about. Of course, I made sure to talk to hoards of people who'd already experienced acupuncture to get as much information as possible about the sensations that occur with the treatment. You can never be too safe, eh? Not surprisingly, everyone reported positive feedback—I mean the Chinese have been practicing this form of medicine for over 4,000 years. What did I really expect?

Regardless of my expectations, I have become a friend and proponent of acupuncture. I can't say that it's cured all of my ills yet (the third of six appointments happens this evening), but I can say that it's a fascinating experience. Spirituality and life energies are not my forte, yet the forces that guide acupuncture's success are bewitching. I don't pretend to understand them; all I know is that I want to know more.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Market and More

We spent yesterday in Brattleboro, completing our work day for the Winter Farmers' Market. We rose early, arrived early, and stayed late. Although we won't be selling at the market until January, we wanted to get the work requirement out of the way and reconnoiter the market scene. The morning included greeting farmers, helping them unload their goods, and assisting with setup; the whole thing ran like a well-oiled machine. The afternoon, however, was the exact opposite. Liz and I were both tiring, and loading things back into vehicles proved to be a far more time-consuming and involved process, mostly due to the unfortunate parking situation at the River Garden. The venue sits at a busy intersection where parking is sparse and the curbside serves as a bus stop, so market participants have limited options for parking. But we managed to make it through, despite the dwindling thanks and random gestures of gratitude (which, for a few farmers, came across as a bitter sense of entitlement, as if we had just magically appeared to lug their belongings to and fro). There were 35 vendors in all—selling veggies, breads, baked goods, cheeses, jellies, clothing, jewelry, birdhouses, cast iron towel bars, soaps, hand-crafted wooden chairs, prepared foods, even kimchi (that is so good!), and more—and the place was packed with patrons. These photos were taken before the masses arrived:

One long and tiring day led to another, as we spent the majority of today at our warehouse space, getting as much done as possible between the two of us. We cleaned, affixed plastic sheeting to the walls of the incubation room, and even managed to erect a few walls. There's still so much more to do, but these small accomplishments help to spur us on.

Posing with the first wall

Incubation room—almost there

Some friends have offered to help us next weekend. We'll need it if we're going to have mushrooms to sell in December!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Regional Coverage

Thanks for the Hannah Grimes Center for running a blurb on Terra Fructi in their November newsletter. Check it out here (scroll to the bottom).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Number 11

Prior to October 5th, I was living in a world where the word "endodontist" had no bearing on my life. But on that day, after experiencing heat sensitivity with one of my teeth for several weeks, I went to see a dentist in Keene in an attempt to ease the pain.

I have had a lot of dental problems in my life, thanks to congenital issues passed on from one or both of my parents. Here's a condensed rundown of my major dental defects: I have too few teeth on the top jaw and too many on the bottom; I was born without some of my adult teeth and with certain teeth in the wrong place (like lodged in my skull near my nose); my front teeth have always had a gap, though it was larger when I was a kid, so the dentist tried to close the gap by cutting out the tissue that connects the upper lip to the gums; I got braces at age 12 and wore them for four years; during that time, I had my wisdon teeth removed and, while I was under, had that misplaced tooth (the one that was up by my nose) uncovered and attached to my braces by a wire, so that it would be slowly pulled down into the place where it should have originally rested; and after the braces were removed, I needed a gum graft for the tooth that had been transported from skull to upper jaw.

The best part of this history is the sad fact that I failed to wear my retainer after the braces were off (I was going through a rebellious period), so my teeth drifted, rendering the whole braces experience a general waste of time and money (sorry, Dad). Luckily, I have learned to accept my teeth and my smile, so the fact that my teeth are the way they never bothered me too much.

Until October 5th.

While at dentist's office, I was informed that I might need to have a root canal. Everyone in my family has had one—even Alison, who, by comparison, has pretty great teeth. Somehow I'd managed to avoid those two dreaded words all my life. Now, however, I was facing the prospect of living through the horror that I'd heard others describe. And guess which tooth contained the dying nerve. You got it: that impacted-near-the-nose nightmare from earlier in my life—number 11.

And so it began, the speedy roller coaster ride of emotions and outflow of cash that accompanies all minor surgeries. It happened so fast. One minute I'm fine, chewing away on hot foods like a pro. The next day I'm feeling enough pain to land me in the dental chair. Then it's off to the endondontist's for a consultation that quickly turns into a confirmation of the need for a root canal (which the medical comminity has craftily renamed "endodontic treatment," causing me to inquire about what exactly it is that an endodontist does—the answer: root canals...and nothing else).

I could feel the ball forming in the pit of my stomach when I was given the news about my need for endodontic treatment. It quickly hardened into a little pebble of fear and uncertainty when the assistant informed me that "she had just gotten word from the doctor that he has time to do the procedure RIGHT NOW." I decided to go for it. I mean, what other choice did I have? So they pumped me full of novocaine and antibiotics and set to work with the drill.

An hour and $1086 later, I was told that the procedure could not be finished that day. Since my number 11 tooth had experienced so much trauma from being moved around, it had built up a large deposit of calcified matter in a last ditch effort to protect itself from more trauma (like a root canal). The doctor was not able to get through the calcified area with the drill, so they filled the hole with a chemical that would—if everything went as planned—slowly dissolve the calcium deposit, and plugged that sucker up with a temporary filling. What, I'd asked, would happen if everything didn't go as planned? I probably could have gotten more information about that possibility out of the wall than the assistant, who, in her silence, made it evident that my problems would escalate to a new level if the chemical dissolution failed.

I made a follow-up appointment for a few weeks out and tried to think positively about the tooth in the interim. When I returned for the second half of the treatment, everyone seemed very upbeat. I listened intently, trying to cull any information I could out of the scant, technical conversation that was buzzing around me. This plan was about as successful as the converation I'd had with the assistant at the conclusion of my first appointment, so I just layed there and hoped for the best. Finally, I heard the doctor say that they had been able to get through to the root and the procedure would be successful.

I wish I could say that this whole ordeal is in my past, but I cannot. For those who are unfamiliar with the reality of root canals, after the treatment is done, there is still a whole cycle of processes to sit through. First, I'll go back to the dentist to have the temporary filling replaced with a permanent one. Next, a mold will be taken so that a crown can be made to protect the rootless tooth from cracking—a prospect that would be very unfortunate after spending so much time and money on the endodontic treatment. Last, the crown will be placed over the tooth, thus completing the long and costly attempt to save it.

When everything is said and done, I will have spent roughly 5 hours and $2400 on number 11. The up side is that I can keep my natural, albeit severely flawed, tooth and forgo paying even more money for another set of dreaded words: a dental implant.

Let's not even go there.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fall is Bestival

I had grandiose plans for covering all of the fun stuff we've been doing this fall, but things got busy with the business and the blog slowly drifted to the bottom of my to-do list. Ultimately, this indicates that my leisure time has dwindled and the beautiful New England fall has passed. We turn the clocks back this Sunday (composition of this post took place on 10/30 despite the date listed above) and I've allowed the season to slip by with not nearly enough time spent outdoors. But all is not lost—there are a few autumn highlights to share, namely, the Mount Snow Beer Fest, which occurred so long ago I can barely recall it, and the visit from my folks several weeks back.

First thing's first: beer is best when it's served in small, commemorative glasses and drunk in the great outdoors with a boatload of strangers. This was the 15th annual beer fest at Mount Show but a first experience for Andrea, Liz and me. The weather couldn't have been better—sunny, bright, and breezy. Here are a few photo highlights:

Liz has arrived!



I love love love trying new beers and the festival had a lot to offer. Additionally, we were able to meet up with some of Andrea's college friends, with whom we raised many a delicious glass.

A few weeks later my parents—our first family guests—came for a visit on the way home from their vacation in Maine. Liz had to work for two of the three days they were here, so I showed them around the area. I think my parents would all agree that the most memorable part of the visit was our hike on Putney Mountain. I suggested that we take advantage of a gorgeous fall day and go for a short hike on the same trail Liz, Andrea, and I had trekked for our August mushroom hike. Since that tour was led by an elderly German woman, we had only hiked so far and I was interested in reconnoitering the trail system to plan future hikes. Examining the map in the parking lot, I planned a short, circular hike to the Pinnacle—an area that I'd heard offered great views—but the trip was extended far beyond what the map had indicated.

Honestly, I can only blame myself; I should have paid way more attention to distance and topo lines. All told, we hiked slightly under six miles—no small feat for an out-of-shape thirtysomething and her parents—but Bill and Karen were really great sports. We trudged along, certain that we would eventually meet the trail that would take us back to the car. We soaked in vast expanses of fantastic Vermont scenery, repeatedly passing an old stone wall that appeared and disappeared with far more ease than it must have taken to construct it. We looked for moose, talked and laughed, even worried, but never complained. Finally, we found the parking lot, climbed into the car, and proceeded to the nearest bar, where the drinks tasted as though every step had been worth it.

Bragoniers on the move

Vermont hills

Unidentified bracket fungi

The following day, Andrea invited us up to Jamaica State Park for the bi-annual dam release on the West River. This is a huge event for paddlers, and Andrea planned to take her new canoe for a spin. Another gorgeous day with lots of friendly folks out and about.

Vermont's West River

Reunited (minus Alison)

All together

It's experiences like these that remind me why we moved here. I'm so thankful that we took the chance.