Thursday, July 17, 2008

CSA + Bike

Earlier this year, my wonderful friend Tara gave me a copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I loved this great book about a family eating only local food for a year. It reminded me of things I wanted to do myself, like finally joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and growing & canning more of my own food.

After driving Doug a little crazy talking about it for weeks, I found a CSA called Homestead Growers that delivers produce to our Wednesday Farmer's Market outside the City Market in downtown Indianapolis. We signed up for a full share that we are splitting with our friends Debra & Harry. So far we've been pretty pleased with all the fresh veggies, and I've had some fun finding ways to prepare some vegetables I've never really cooked with before. And getting to the Farmer's Market on a weekly basis is a lot of fun as well, since I never seem to escape before I buy quite a bit more after picking up the CSA box. In fact, I found out that the City Market also has a butcher shop called Moody Meats that provides very tasty meat from a local farm (free-range chickens, pesticide-free, sustainable farming methods, all sorts of good stuff going on there.) So, barring a few items from the regular grocery store (and from my well-stocked pantry), Doug & I have mostly been buying and eating local foods for the past few weeks. Yay! It makes me very happy!

And shamed by Doug's recent bike mileage goals, I've been trying to do more bike commuting myself. My office is only a bit more than 3 miles from my house, so I can't really compete with his mileage. But I have been pretty good at biking to & from work, including some errands around town just about every day for the past two weeks. In fact, I even managed to attach the CSA box onto my bike rack yesterday! I got a real kick out of all the weird looks, giggles and cheers I got from the farmer's market folks as I tried to stash a week's groceries onto my bike. And I managed to make it home with only one minor mishap. Bumping over a particularly nasty pothole, the little bag with my chocolate croissant (from Rene's at the market "You deserve a cookie today!") escaped from my saddle bag. When I stopped to rescue it, I realized that the bump had also popped the clip of the saddle bag off the rack and with it, the bungee cord on the CSA box! Luckily, they slid off the rack slowly & I reattached everything without bruising the precious cargo. And the croissant was only slightly mushed. :)

I'm hoping to continue this local food habit (and infect all my friends too!) There are some great books & blogs out there if you're interested in finding out more about eating local foods or being mindful about the food you choose to consume. Here's a just a few, including some sites for local Indy food: Going Local, Plenty & the 100 mile diet, Slow Food USA, Market on Morris, Goose the Market, Ominvore's Dilemma, and Indiana Market Maker.

It was also in the plans to expand the veggie garden this year. The expansion didn't happen, but I did plant the exisitng beds. Which the weeds are trying to take over. :) Hopefully I'll take control back soon, at least in time to get the tomatoes staked up. The plan is to do a little more canning this year and to make some crabapple jelly!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Petting Catfish

Over the July 4th weekend, we joined our friends Valerie & Darren for some camping in southern Illinois. They were getting some scuba dive certifications at a spring-fed former quarry called Mermet Springs. Doug & I mostly just tagged along to try out our new tent, hike, play games and eat good food!

It turns out the Mermet Springs is also home to some huge, hungry catfish! And they like hotdogs! And while you are distracting them with the hotdog (before they steal the whole thing) you can pet their very soft noses. :)

The quarry is just a few miles from Metropolis, IL, home of the giant Superman Statue. After visiting with him for a bit, Doug and I also wandered down for a hike at Fort Massac State Park. Fort Massac is a restored wooden fort on the Ohio River originally built by the French in the mid 18th century.

Feeling inspired, we also decided to take a run on the trails at the Mermet Lake Conservation Area. Vaguely spooked by this sign, we ended up running on the very sunny (and hot) bluebird trail in a prairie field.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

European Adventures (and Misadventures) Part 2

If you have jumped into our story half-way, check out Part 1 to find out how you can accidentally end up in Italy on the way to Switzerland.

We finally got on the right train that would take us to Switzerland! We might have checked with 3 or 4 or 10 different people to make sure we were on the right train. :) I was still a little twitchy, worried that we'd get in trouble for having tickets from the night before, that we were in someone else's seat, etc. But as we got closer to Switzerland, I calmed down. Especially when we started to hear a little German spoken by other passengers. One of the big problems with our unexpected trip to Italy was...errr...Italian. Doug can speak a little French and I can speak a little German and neither of us (or our handy France & Switzerland guidebooks) has any Italian!

But we finally make it into Switzerland, made our last train change for the day (in Spiez, not to be confused with La Spieza) and we made it to Interlaken. We stashed our bags at our hotel and began to explore. After picking up maps and touristy info, we found some lunch. And WOW, it is expensive in Switzerland! But tasty! Bellies full, we decided to hike up the side of a mountain for little while, then deciding we don't really want to go up anymore, we followed another trail to the Goldswil Ruins. "Castle!" says Doug. "Nono, just some ruins" says Fiona. "CASTLE!" says Doug. Fiona sighs.

Even though it wasn't really a castle the ruins were still pretty neat. We followed another wanderweg (walking trail) and walked along the river back into town. Interlaken more or less means "between the lakes" The very cold, very bluey-greeny river Aare connects the two lakes (Thunersee and Brienzersee). Back in town we actually do see a castle...but it's a very uncastley looking one. But, we do learn the German word for castle, Schloss, which is very fun to say! We also get to see paragliders landing in the big grassy park in the center of town, lots of fun statues & fountains, and cowbells. Lots of cowbells. I really start to want cowbells. They're everywhere. We've also run into LOTS of disaffected youth in the streets all day. We had seen a huge crowd of them, pelting some poor man with empty water bottles while he was trying to announce something. Since my german isn't really up to translating mob muttering, we weren't sure what was happening. But, on our hike we'd run into a nice man with a chainsaw. :) He explained to us that the load noise (music, not the chainsaw) was some traveling music festival. And weren't "all those young people going to go deaf", says the nice man with the chainsaw. We're guessing that the angry teenage mob downtown couldn't get tickets to the festival.

As it gets toward evening, we start to walk toward the last items we want to see on our maps (another Schloss!) and we end up in Unterseen, the town next to Interlaken whose name also means "between the lakes". We find a grocery store and stock up on some slightly less expensive food and tasty cheese (yay!) and start to head back. We stop to try our first swiss cheese fondue (yum!). After a quick stop at a cybercafe to check in at home, we head back to the hotel and plan the next day's adventure.

One of the big reasons we'd traveled to Interlaken was to take a train up to Jungfraujoch, the highest peak in Europe. But, futzing with schedules, the length and expense of the ride, and the weather we'd seen, we decided to take a trip to a lower peak, Schynige Platte, at 6,564ft. Rising crazy early the next morning, we hopped on the first cogwheel train of the day up the mountain. We were very pleased with ourselves, the day was very overcast and cold, and the cloud cover hovered just above the where our train stopped! We hiked through a wonderful alpine garden park, saw marmots, got snowed on, and slid down a very fun slide! Then we hopped back on the train (it was VERY cold up there) and headed back down the mountain. With 6 minutes between trains, we managed to get our bags (craftily stored in lockers at the station) and left Interlaken to head to Montreux and THE CHOCOLATE TRAIN!

In Montreux, we ended up at a fairly fancy hotel. Woohoo! We took a nice dip in the hot tub, and then took a wander around town. Montreux is on the eastern tip of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman). The town also seems to go straight up into the mountains from the shores of the lake. So, mostly we walked uphill. Our guidebook had suggested a restaurant, Caveau des Vignerons, which sounded interesting, so we walked (uphill) to the oldtown only to find out it was closed on Sundays. Boo. After walking uphill some more, we decided we'd admired enough of the architecture and giggled at the old church surrounded by tons grape vines enough and headed back down to the lake and our hotel. We wandered the lovely trail along the lake and finished the night up with a lovely diner. Doug was brave enough to try the beef tartare, which was pretty tasty.

But really, we were in Montreux because the next morning, we boarded THE CHOCOLATE TRAIN. Really. Look closely at the pic of the departures and you will see that "Chocolat" leaves at 9.36. Woohoo! Pretty much every guide book and packaged tour I saw for Switzerland included this trip, so of course, we took it! While serving us chocolate croissants and coffee, this very pretty train took us to Gruyères (yep, like the cheese) to tour a cheese factory and to explore the town, its kinky weird alien museum (HR Giger Musee) and its huge castle. And we finally bought a cowbell. Because everyone needs more cowbell! We couldn't resist. But back to our story, we got back onto the train to the town of Broc and the Nestle-Calliers chocolate factory! We had a tour of the factory that ended with the most amazing chocolate tasting ever. Miles of tasty chocolate! As we all sugar crashed, the train took us back to Montreux. We we headed for Lausanne that night, but Doug and I tried to catch dinner at Caveau des Vignerons again, only to find out they didn't serve dinner until after 7pm. It was only 5:30, and we wanted to head out to our next hotel, so we sadly missed dinner there again. Sigh.

We arrived in Lausanne, on the north shore of Lake Geneva, and made our way to the prettiest hotel of the trip. It was a tiny little room, but best of all, we were staying here for TWO nights in a row! With maps in hand (I LOVE that every city seemed to have tourist info at the train station!) we went off to wander Lausanne before full dark hit. And we found another grocery store. We actually had been craving salad for days, so it was perfect, along with a bottle of "Frizzy" sparkling peach wine.

As we read through our guidebook that night, we realized that we'd missed out on "the most photographed castle" in Switzerland when we were in Montreux. So after hitting a few museums (Olympic Musee and the Photography Musee) we headed back there, only a 20 minute train ride. Our book claimed that we could walk the 3 km along the lake trail to get to the Château de Chillon (a.k.a. Castle of Chillon). Our guidebook was deluded, it was at least 3 miles. Regardless, the walk was well worth it. Now this was definitely a CASTLE!

"Audiotours" were one of the cool things we encountered on this vacation at most of the museums and historical sites. For a small fee, you have the use of an iPod with a self-guided tour in your language. Very nice! So, we got to learn stuff! Building on this castle began about a thousand years ago, but the current structure of it is probably from the 13th century. We tromped around the castle, from the dungeons where we pretended to be the "Prisioner of Chillon" (a famous poem by Lord Byron) all the way to the top of the keep.

As it began to rain on the way back to town, we managed to catch the bus back to Montreux and on our third attempt, finally got to have dinner at Caveau des Vignerons. Our Frommers guidebook had recommended this restaurant, and I was pleased with the description, "traditional Swiss cuisine is served in a candlelit cave". And we WERE pleased with the restaurant. Even though it wasn't a cave. :) Turns out that the building had formerly been a winery. Another tasty fondue for me and a traditional swiss dish of "horse entrecote" (steak) for Doug. Honestly, I was hoping the horse would be terrible, but it was probably the best piece of steak I've ever tried. Oh, and we finished up with "Macerated grapes in 'lie' " We ordered this dessert mainly because I liked the name of it, and we couldn't remember what "macerated" meant. Turns out that we were served a dish of giant green raisin-looking things in a clear liquid. The liquid ended up being some potent liquor and raisins that were still fairly grape-like, juicy and almost firm. Very weird. And, it turns out that "macerated" means (in cooking) letting food, usually fruit, soak in a liquid to absorb flavor. Fruits are usually soaked in liqueurs.

That brings us to our last full day in Switzerland. We headed (finally) to Geneva and stashed our bags in a locker at the train station while we touristed around the city. We decided to try out our guidebook's walking tour of the city. Sadly, about half of the items on the walking tour were not working, or under construction. But in the midst of our wandering, we di
d find the St. Pierre Cathedral. Impressively huge with gorgeous stained glass, the very interesting bit about this site was the archeological excavations going on beneath it.

To finish off our trip, we did have a little bit more travel nuttiness. It turned out that our last hotel was just over the border into France. The nice bus information lady had given us some great advice on bus routes out to our hotel. Our Swiss rail passes gave included bus fares, but since we needed to cross into France, we would need to pay 2 Euro per person to go the one bus stop further past the border. She suggested that we get off a stop early and just walk the rest of the way. Which we did. Then walked 30 feet or so to the border crossing and 30 feet further was "our" bus stop. And we giggled a lot about the the 60 feet of walking that would have cost us $6 to ride on the bus.

Our last night was fairly uneventful and we got to the airport without a hitch. And then things got just a little absurd. It turns out that the Geneva airport is on the France & Switzerland border. Literally. Some airlines check in at on the France side and you have to go through customs to get to the rest of the airlines on the Swiss side. And of course, Doug needed to check-in in France & I needed to be in Switzerland. :) After wandering a bit lost, we figured it out, and Doug flew off home an hour before me. But as I tried to check-in for my flight, I found out that they had no record of me on the reservation list. After lots more questions with the customer service desk, it turned out that when I missed my connection at the beginning of the trip, the airline folks had reported me as a "no show" for my flight & canceled my return flight. Aggghhh! Luckily, I still got on the flight, made the rest of my connections, and arrived home in Indianapolis just a few minutes after Doug. Whew.

All in all, it was a great trip & we had a wonderful time. And we have some REALLY funny stories about trains & Italy! There are also a ridiculous amount of photos in two albums here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

European Adventures (and Misadventures) Part 1

Last month Doug and I took off to Europe for a few weeks. Earlier in the year, Doug found out that his company would be sending him to work at a conference in south of France and training meeting Switzerland. I was pleased to tag along so we could make a vacation of it after Doug finished up work!

Our adventure started off with separate flight plans. Since Doug's travel was arranged through his office, we weren't able to take the same flights. So, Doug took off on his own an hour before me and flew off to catch his connection to Amsterdam and Nice without a hitch. (I'm leaving it to him to talk about his interlude in Amsterdam)

On the other hand, my trip started off a little shakier. Before we even left for the airport, I was a little off my game. Sadly, that morning before we left, we had to put one of my cats to sleep. My poor scaredy-cat, Dugan, known for frantically hiding under and behind every piece of furniture in my house for the last 6 years, had come out of hiding the night before. It was quickly apparent that he was very sick and a trip to the vet the next morning confirmed my fears that there was probably nothing we could do to fix him. So...I was already a little shaky. Then my connection from Indianapolis to Chicago was delayed and delayed and delayed. And I missed my flight to London & France. After uncharacteristically bursting into tears at the ticket agent, when he told me I couldn't get onto another flight until the next day (I blamed the poor kitty for the tears), I ended up getting to spend the night with my parents & flying out the next day.

Finally getting to Nice, France a day late, I took are really crazy expensive taxi trip to the Club Med Opio en Provence, where Doug was still be wondering where I had gotten lost. :) I crashed for a while and was wakened with much rejoicing by Doug after the last conference session was over. Doug took me on a little tour of the resort, we found some tasty appetizers & free drinks (woohoo!) and relaxed on some lounges around the pool. Sadly, my bags were still in Chicago, so I never did get to partake in any of the lovely swimming pools...but Doug did his best to enjoy them for me.

For our last few days in France, we moved from Opio to Nice. Doug's conference had finished up, and now we were at a new hotel (cheaper) where he still had a few more days of work meetings. These meetings had originally been planned to happen in Switzerland, but ended up taking place in Nice. But, since my plane tickets were already booked, we still ended up our vacation there. I finally had gotten my luggage (3 days later!) and was ready to be touristy. I managed to navigate the bus system without getting too lost, and spent 2 days exploring Nice. Swam in the Mediterranean, went to museums (Musee Matisse was very cool), took a bus tour on the windy roads above the city, ate tasty food, hiked up a billion stairs to the top of "The Rock" called Le Châ was all very good!

This brings us to the end of the first week. Doug was finished with his meetings, and we were ready with our train tickets to Geneva. Or so we thought. We had booked our train tickets, Swiss rail passses, and hotel reservations with Virgin Vacations. At some point when we were planning the rest of our trip, we'd found out that EURO 2008, the football (soccer) championships were also going to be taking place in Switzerland. So we needed to try and avoid some of the sport instanity and carefully arrange reservations in our 2nd week. We had been pretty pleased with dealing with Virgin Vacations. We gave them our list of cities and they found us hotels. We said, "We want Swiss Rail Passes" and they got them for us. And finally, "We want train tickets from Nice, France to Geneva, Switzerland" and they did. Well. Kinda. It turns out that nobody (including us) noticed that the tickets ACTUALLY said "Nice to Genova". And, Genova (just one little letter different) is in Italy. Not in Switzerland. Like our Swiss Rail Passes. Like our hotel booked for that night in Geneva, Switzerland.

Still blithely unaware, Doug and I get to the Nice train station and we show our tickets to the nice informaton lady, who directs us to the train we're booked on. We take our first train ride, and we have a hour or so in a town called Ventimiglia to change trains. It turns out Ventimiglia is just over the border into Italy. "Neat!" we say, "We got to go to Italy!". We get back on the train, and start poking through our Switzerland guide book, planning what we'll do when we arrive in Geneva at 4:30 that afternoon. As the afternoon passes, we realize that all the stop names still seem to be Italian sounding city names and we've still be traveling along the coast. Which is not good, since we should be heading north into the mountains. I start frantically digging through our travel documents to figure out what's gone wrong. Finally realize that our tickets have us headed for Genova, and that this is probably NOT where we were supposed to be going. None of our books (France & Switzerland) have any maps of Italy in them. Aggh!

Finally I find a Eurail map, and we figure out that our tickets have in fact sent us to Genoa (or Genova) which is a city at the top of the "boot" of Italy. Way further east and south of where we were supposed to be. Oh, and in the wrong country. :) We burst off the train and race into the station. Doug stops to wait in the REALLY long ticket line, and I head for information line. The nice man at information, speaks English (yay!), quickly flips through all his timetable books, and writes down our new set of trains to get to Geneva (3 or 4 trains, arriving at 2 am). I boogie back to Doug, and we get our tickets. The nice ticket lady is a little concerned because she isn't sure about the route that the info man has set out for us, but books the tickets for us anyway. For a mere $142 Euro ($225 US). Eek. Turns out that our Swiss Rail passes really don't work in Italy.

So we get back on the train, this time heading for Milan. During the ride, Doug and I figure out that it's pretty foolish to go all the way to Geneva that night, just to arrive at 2 am, then to hop back on the train the next morning to head out to our next city. We should just skip Geneva and go directly to Interlaken, and have an extra half day to spend there. We have a little time when we change trains in we run to the ticket folks to find out if our new plan will work. It turns out that the next train that we are booked on, will actually get us to a train to Interlaken if we get off at a different station, a city called "Spiez". And since we'll actually be in Swizterland by then, our Swiss Rail passes will let us go anywhere. Great! So, we have 15 minutes or so to find our train to Spiez. We look at the departures train numbers. But, we do find the train to "La Spieza". Woohoo! Off we zoom to train platform with the train going to La Spieza. We hop on the train and toss our luggage up on the racks and breathe a sigh of relief. Doug is in his proper seat #33 and my assigned seat is #38, which isn't in this section. The train isn't very full, so it's probably okay that I'm in the wrong seat. But just in case, Doug goes checking the next section to find my real seat. And comes back to report that there is no seat #38. And I start to get a bad feeling. As I frantically start searching though our tickets and maps again, I ask Doug if he's sure we're on the right train. We start to pull our luggage back down and drag it back out to the door...but the nice lady in the hall assures us that this is the train to "La Spieza" just as I find the tiny little map I have that show Italy, and figure out that "La Spieza" is NOT Spiez and is FURTHER into Italy. And then the train leaves the station. Agggghhhhh!

Let me say, at this point, Doug is wonderful. He was still cheerful and optimistic and generally keeping me from completely bursting into tears.

Hoping to find a conductor to help us figure out what to do next, Doug starts walking down the cars of the train while I hang out with the luggage. This is a VERY long train, and Doug said that when he got about 10 cars from me, he realized that we didn't have a plan for when the train stopped. Was I going to get off at the next stop with all the luggage or no? And would he be able to see me if I did!?!? Doug comes sprinting back. In the meantime I've been working myself into a state, worrying that if we did get off at the next stop...would there even be a train back to Milan that night? And would we have to buy ANOTHER set of train tickets for the train we just missed?!? AGGGHHH!

Luckily, the train make a stop about 10 minutes later and we were able to catch another train back to the Milan station. We knew that we'd already missed the real train we were supposed to be on, but there was another train there early the next morning AND we could still use the tickets we already bought. So, we finally trudged out of the train station at about 10:30 pm...into the pouring rain. We found a hotel fairly close by and giggled at the bidet in our bathroom. And we managed to find a cafe that was still open and finally got some dinner. And then finally got some sleep. A very short sleep, since our train left at 7:20 the next morning.

But finally, it seems that the train gods were bored of messing with us, and we finally made it to Swizterland! Don't miss the thrilling conclusion of our misadventures in Part 2!


Oh, and Emma is still adorable. She requested that she be on the blog in her cute duckie towel.

Recumbent bike

So, last year I decided that I liked biking, but didn't like the associated pain (or the numbness, which made me worry). I had tried a "boy-friendly" bike seat, but no dice. So, I got a Recumbent bike: expensive, but I figured it'd pay for itself in gas money. Being analytical, I decided to chart my money saved verses bike cost in a progress bar -- starting at black, and slowly revealing the bike.
Well, I'm happy to say that I'm 20% paid off. I'm trying to increase my mileage to 90 miles/week (60 miles this week so far), which'll make the whole thing become visible way faster.
2007.9.20 -- First week of the bike: 2007.11.9 -- Last bike ride of the season
2008.5.30 -- Last bike ride before Switzerland

2008.7.10 -- Today, after 60 miles of riding this week

So, Fiona has gotten used to getting emails saying "I CAN SEE THE PEDAL", or "I CAN SEE THE WHOLE GEAR"