18 September 2014

The Latin Lesson

While I've never taken a Latin class, I know my smattering of e pluribus unum and amo/amas/amat, post prandium and quod erat demonstrandum, caveat emptor and et cetera. And, I know that a male graduate of Harvard College is an alumnus, and a female graduate of Wellesley is an alumna, and a whole mess of graduates of some college are alumni, but the collective female graduates of Bryn Mawr are alumnae.

So, when I got a pitch from someone that used "alumni" incorrectly in the subject and four more times in the body copy,

National Cheeseburger Day is September 18, and NFL alumni / successful restaurant founder and CEO, Crawford Ker, is offering insider tips for creating the perfect cheeseburger so everyone can enjoy this national holiday deliciously! For more information or to arrange an interview with Mr. Ker, please contact me...

I felt compelled to write back.

There's only one former NFL player involved, right? Alumnus is the singular.

And now I feel like I've made the world a better place. Because yesterday, I got a follow-up email, and she fixed it! She used "alumnus" correctly!

I am just following-up to see if I can provide further information regarding National Cheeseburger Day on September 18. NFL alumnus / successful restaurant founder and CEO, Crawford Ker, is offering insider tips for creating the perfect cheeseburger so everyone can enjoy this national holiday deliciously! For more information or to arrange an interview with Mr. Ker, please contact me...

Considering how much railing I do about things that are never going to be fixed, this was one gratifyingly simple pleasure.

Incidentally, how do you pronounce "alumnae"? Mary Lefkowitz will tell you.

17 September 2014

Road Trip: The Miscellaneous

If you get an ebook out of the library on your Kindle app and you never take the iPad off of Airplane Mode, you can take longer than two weeks to finish your book because the Kindle will not get the ping from the mothership that will delete the book. This is good when you are reading one of those 900 page books in the Outlander series.

One 12 ounce bottle of olive oil is good for two weeks of salads and sautéing, but 10 ounces of vinegar is twice as much as you need.

Elevation changes are well reflected in sealed plastic packages. These marshmallows were bought at 5627 feet and photographed at 8975 feet. See how the bag is inflated? Also, jumbo marshmallows are idiotic.

When you pack, you throw weird stuff in at the last minute, right? I loved having a couple of silicone twist ties and a few of those plastic coated metal clips, for sealing up all sorts of things, and holding other things in place.

If you are going to go to more than three National Parks in one year, get the pass. It’s $80, it’s good for a year, and it gets a carload of people into the park. And then when you happen to be driving by the FDR house in Hyde Park, you can go on a tour for free! We’re making the most of our park pass. I might even go to the Teddy Roosevelt house, which is a block away from my office and I’ve never set foot inside.

If you are going to be in Yellowstone for more than a couple of days and are going to be buying things like groceries and bear spray and souvenirs, join the Yellowstone Association. It’s $35, and gets you a 15% discount on purchases in the Park (except for gas and meals). And you get a quarterly magazine for the next year. And you get a door prize, which was a choice of a tote or a stuffed bear. Yes, of course, the 10yo picked the stuffed bear, and named it Fumarole.

I can't really explain why I was so amused to find spent cap gun ammo outside the office of the Butch Cassidy campground.

One family’s campsite in Madison included the oddest little tent: its footprint was about 4’ square, and it was taller than it was wide. We decided that it was the Tardis in disguise.

The way I solved the problem of the kid wanting to buy things at every single gift shop was by giving her an allowance. I didn’t give it to her in cash; I paid for things, and she said “take it off my tab”. On about the third day, she started working out what Monster High dreck she could buy with the leftover money when we got home, because I’d made the mistake of not stipulating that it was “vacation only, use it or lose it”. Next time. In the end, she did spend most of her allowance on the road – on postcards, a 3D wolf puzzle, two stuffed animals, an “opal” ring, and the Lego movie on the airplane ride home.

Do not ever buy the Walmart Mainstays Quick Drying Towels. They dry quickly because they do not absorb any water; I think they may have been treated with ScotchGuard.

A 10yo American girl who speaks no Dutch can have a wonderful few hours with a 10yo Dutch girl who speaks no English.

I got out of the car one day to take a picture, and saw signs for a Gutzon Borglum monument. Awesome name, right? He turned out to be the sculptor who carved Mount Rushmore. Maybe we'll go to Mount Rushmore next year.

I like a good didactic sign, but I like them better when they don't have grammatical errors.

The end.

Part 1, The Hut, is here.
Part 2, The Campsites, is here.
Part 3, On Food And Cooking, is here.
Part 4, The Assignment, is here.
Part 5, The Animals, is here.
Part 6, The Natural Sights, is here.
Part 7, The Built Environment, is here.

16 September 2014

Road Trip: The Built Environment

While most of the trip was about the natural environment, I was delighted by and sought out plenty of human-built structures. Some of them were falling down candidates for Decay & Desuetude, but here are some other things that struck my fancy.

I loved stumbling upon the Ephraim, UT library, and discovering that it was a Carnegie library, built in 1914. It has great fenestration.

We were fascinated by the free damn tour of the Flaming Gorge hydroelectric dam (the tour guide used damn/dam as often as she could). Dedicated in 1964, it's an amazing piece of concrete work, though we can debate the pros and cons of a hydro dam from now 'til eternity.

I also liked the old-school dam on Jackson Lake. Gears!

Because we were in Utah, some of the sights were Mormon sites, like the temple in Salt Lake City.

And the Ephraim Co-op building, built in 1871 of local oolite limestone.

And another LDS temple, with the helpfully named Temple View motel right near by.

We also stopped to check out a fracking well, which had cows grazing alongside. The cows ran away when we got out of the car.

At the four corners of the main square in the center of Jackson, WY, there are huge arches made of antlers. I like the pattern. And this totally counts as "built environment" - you can see a screw head just off center.

The old Old Faithful Lodge is a wonderful pile, inside and out.

This hinge is on a side door at the Norris Geyser Basin Museum.

We made an art pilgrimage to the Spiral Jetty which meant 34 miles of gravel road in the middle of nowhere. (And the kid refused to get out of the car when we got there.)

I love that fans have built tiny spirals alongside the big one. (You can see them to the left of the base of the spiral in the picture above.

Actually, I'm not surprised that the girl didn't get of of the car, because we were driving the hut, and the hut didn't love the gravel road AT ALL. In fact, I was expecting a mutiny from both my husband and my child, but he decided to embrace the adventure when he realized that there was no turning back.

A sea of cuboid hay is a perhaps a stretch as far as the "built environment" is concerned, but it compelled me to take its picture, so here it is. Anyway, it's totally man-made.

And because I'm weird, I had to take a picture of a concrete light pole, in a suburban part of Salt Lake City. I just liked it.

Part 1, The Hut, is here.
Part 2, The Campsites, is here.
Part 3, On Food And Cooking, is here.
Part 4, The Assignment, is here.
Part 5, The Animals, is here.
Part 6, The Natural Sights, is here.

15 September 2014

Road Trip: The Natural Sights

The thing about a road trip through Utah and Wyoming is that every time you come around another bend, you gasp. It’s one incredible view after another. And even when it’s not slick-rock canyons or red-hued hoodoos or acres of siliceous sinter, it’s miles and miles and miles of sagebrush with a mountain in the distance. It’s a landscape like nothing in the Northeast.

We went to four National Parks (Bryce, Zion, Grand Teton and Yellowstone), and one National Historic Site (Golden Spike), and stayed in or traveled through at least six National Forests (Ashley, Bridger-Teton, Cache, Dixie, Targhee, Uinta-Wasatch). With each one I thought “This is why we pay taxes; I’m getting my tax dollars back in spades”. Great swaths of scenic land have been preserved so that you and I and a lot of elk can visit.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon


Slick rock canyon, off Scenic By-Way 12

Moor (and cold child), off Scenic By-Way 12

Firehole Canyon, Flaming Gorge

Old Faithful

Excelsior Geyser

Thermal runoff into the Firehole River

Porcelain Basin

Gardner River

Gardner River (that green squiggle through the middle)

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Dead trees

Jenny Lake

Part 1, The Hut, is here.
Part 2, The Campsites, is here.
Part 3, On Food And Cooking, is here.
Part 4, The Assignment, is here.
Part 5, The Animals, is here.

13 September 2014

Road Trip: The Animals

I should have had one of those hand-held counters for the cows. We saw a lot of cows. A cow walked through one of our campsites; there were cow patties in another. They walked across the road in front of us.

They grazed scenically all over the place.

But it wasn’t all cows, all the time. We saw bald eagles while white water rafting, and looked down on turkey vultures from the top of the Flaming Gorge dam.

We saw huge trout in the outflow of that dam, tiny baby Snake River cutthroats at the Jackson National Fish Hatchery, and little brookies on the Gardner River in Yellowstone (we were fishing for them, but we released all that we caught).

There were bison walking through a parking lot, big horn sheep causing a traffic jam on the way to Zion National Park, herons, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, wild horses, moose, a coyote (well, the kid was the only one who saw the coyote – it was pointed out by the fishing guide), one beaver, antelope, and Western jays.

Most of the bison were not in parking lots:

At that campsite that had an aviary, there were turkeys and peacocks begging for scraps of our breakfast baguette, after the rooster had woken us all up in the morning.

There was also an exceptional dog.

No dogs allowed
in building
No exceptions!

And I got to ride a mule named Tony, Tony the Ledgewalker.

I got a mule and his name is Tony,
he likes to walk on the edge of the trail.

And though we didn't see any wolves, we went to a ranger talk on the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, bought two books about wolves, and came home with a burning desire to visit the Wolf Conservation Center that's not too far from our home.

Part 1, The Hut, is here.
Part 2, The Campsites, is here.
Part 3, On Food And Cooking, is here.
Part 4, The Assignment, is here.

10 September 2014

Road Trip: The Assignment

In order to make sure that the girl had at least a little bit of a focus, I assigned her a project. In return for being allowed to take a Monster High doll along as a companion, she was to do a photo essay: the doll's road trip out West. There were shots at the airport, and on the plane. Shots from inside the RV, and outside. The doll ate hotdogs (meticulously cut down to size), she ate s'mores (ditto). She was posed above Bryce Canyon, she swam in Jackson Lake, and she even chased wolves.

Part 1, The Hut, is here.
Part 2, The Campsites, is here.
Part 3, On Food And Cooking, is here.

09 September 2014

Road Trip: On Food And Cooking

Fourteen nights on the road in a small RV means finding a balance between meals out, and meals prepared out of the little kitchen. I’d guess that we ended up eating one meal out every day, usually lunch. Breakfast was easy – cereal, or pancakes, or bread & butter & jam, or eggs – all things that were easy enough to make using the one functioning burner in the tiny kitchen. [The other burner was missing one of the four legs that hold up a pot, so it was pretty much out of commission.]

Dinner was easy too: we’d make a wood fire out in the fire pit, and use it to grill steak or chicken or hot dogs, and sauté some onions & peppers on a cast iron skillet, and tuck some potatoes in a foil packet alongside the coals. That, and a salad, that’s a meal.

And because you’ve got that wood fire going, you make s’mores. I’ve decided, though, that s’mores are completely overrated: the bland insipid Hershey’s chocolate doesn’t get melty enough, and the graham crackers are way too boring. I had my sentiment corroborated when we invited a Dutch family in a nearby campsite to share our dessert. The children loved them, the parents, not so much. They were polite, but it got me thinking that it’s time to reinvent the s’more. The answer? Stash the good chocolate for that kind of emergency, and use Anna’s ginger thins for the cookie. Perfection.

Figuring that there were going to be nights when we weren’t going to want to cook a steak over a wood fire, we laid in a jar of tomato sauce and some dried pasta and a small block of parmesan. The cheese was the girl’s idea, and not thinking it through, I went along with it. Of course, when it came time to get the cheese into a form that could be sprinkled over a bowl of pasta, I was stymied.

The small serrated knife produced a better result, but the vegetable peeler was a lot easier.

Groceries were a bit of a challenge. We stocked up on good stuff in Salt Lake City before we left, and at a fancy Whole Foods clone at the midpoint in Jackson, but in between, the pickings were slim. I actually rejected a package of hotdogs in one Yellowstone convenience store because they just looked too gross for words. We did buy various things that we never buy at home, like factory-farmed chickens and cereal in single serve boxes. I also experimented: that roots-intact, hydroponic lettuce that comes in a clamshell does fine banging around on the counter of an RV for a few days.

Meals out were a mixed bag. We avoided fast food restaurants completely, but staying away from the predictable sameness of McDonald’s in favor of one-off eateries found on Yelp or Roadfood meant some indifferent meals, some mediocre pie, and one meal that I would happily fly back across the country for. Located on Scenic By-Way 12, a 100 mile road from nowhere to nowhere, and called Hell’s Backbone Grill, my husband thought it was going to be a biker joint. But no – it’s an oasis of calm, with blue flower petals sprinkled on the homemade limeade, unpretentious fabulously prepared food with a Tex-Mex veneer, a resident Maine Coon, and their own organic farm. They were exceedingly nice to our morose carsick 10yo and let her eat naught but a perfect peach and a fresh toasted biscuit.

On our first day in Salt Lake, we ended up getting great sandwiches at a place called Toasters, which I confess that I picked mostly because someone on Yelp dissed it with “overrated, expensive hipster sandwiches”. And on our last day, we drove up to Park City, and ended up having pizza at Vinto, splendid little wood-fired pizzas followed by some of the best gelato I’ve had in a long time. The girl had the butterscotch pudding with salted caramel sauce, natch, and that might have been even better than the gelato.

Eating in the National Parks – we ate in the lodge at Bryce Canyon, and in several lodges in Yellowstone – was a happy surprise: decent food, not outrageously priced. Also, there was something divinely mind-bending about encountering a bison in a parking lot near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and finding bison burgers on the menu at the Canyon Lodge Dining Room an hour later.

Hands down, the worst meal of the trip was the one we had at Mom’s Cafe. I found Mom’s written up all over the place, not just Yelp and Roadfood, and it wasn’t far from our first campground, so we went there for dinner our first night on the road. No, no, no. It was dreadful. Moral of the story? Don’t eat at Mom’s.

And by far, the best thing kitchen implement I brought on the trip was my plastic wineglass. Cheers!

Part 1, The Hut, is here.
Part 2, The Campsites, is here.

08 September 2014

Road Trip: The Campsites

In our epic journey through Utah and Wyoming, we spent 14 nights on the road, at 8 different campsites. A couple of them were somewhat awful, like, never go back again awful. Most were fine, a couple were special. All but one was in either a National Park or a National Forest.

In order of appearance:

Butch Cassidy Campground - Salina, UT
The first night was the only night that we stayed in a commercial campsite, one that wasn’t in a National Park or National Forest. It was hard by the road, so it was noisy, but it was rather endearing in other ways. The manager was an elderly Japanese woman, who bowed at me when I finished registering. She had an aviary on the premises, with some birds caged in a tidy meshed structure, and peacocks, turkeys and chickens wandering free. There were also a number of cats, a tame bunny rabbit, and free hot showers! Breakfast at a picnic table with turkeys and peacocks? A fight for the crumbs and an attack on my husband’s shiny wedding ring.

Full RV hookup (water, sewer, electricity)
Flush toilets, hot showers
No fire ring

Pine Lake Campground (Dixie National Forest) - Escalante, UT (three nights)
Our home base for excursions to Bryce and Zion was a lovely, small campground down a seven mile long washboard gravel road. On the first morning, a cow walked through the campsite.

No hookup, but running water with a hose connection was available
Pit toilets (in immaculate condition)
Fire ring, with cooking grate (firewood available for sale)

Avintaquin Campground, (Ashley National Forest) – near Price, UT
We’d made reservations for every night but the one we ended up at Avintaquin, but we’d identified two campsites that were in roughly the right spot, distance-wise, based on where we’d been the night before and where we were going. An error in navigation led us to this campsite instead of the other, and it might well have been our favorite one of all. It’s in the trees, on top of a mountain, and vehicles bigger than our 19’ camper probably wouldn’t make it up the hill. It’s also remote enough that it wasn’t full, so it rather felt like we had it to ourselves. There were cows on the other side of the fence from our site, but they didn’t cross the cattle grate to come visit. Views of the sunset and the sunrise were lovely.

No hookup, no water
Pit toilets
Fire ring, no grate (no firewood available)

Firehole Canyon Campground (Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area/Ashley National Forest) – near Rock Springs, WY
The Flaming Gorge is a huge reservoir that was created by the damming of the Green River. The hydro-power dam is in Utah, but the reservoir extends north into Wyoming, and this campground was up towards the north end. We were skeptical as we arrived: it was hot, and there was no tree cover and, except for the body of water, it seemed like a desert. We found our way to our campsite, and were pleasantly surprised to find that each site had an oddly handsome two sided adobe-like shelter, with a slat roof. It blocked the hot sun and the fierce wind, making the site really lovely.

No hookup, but running water with a hose connection was available
Flush toilets, hot showers
Fire ring, with cooking grate (firewood available for sale)

Colter Bay Village Campground (Grand Tetons National Park) – WY (two nights)
Honestly? This was hands-down the worst campsite. It was RVs only – the tent people were elsewhere – and we were surrounded by enormo-giganto RVs, the kind that are 50 feet long and have multiple pushout sections. The people next to us had a satellite dish, and had stuck a metal welcome sign with their names on it in the ground. Another RV was pulled by a full size tractor-trailer truck cab, with a small Jeep rigged up on the back on a diagonal alongside the obligatory dirt bike. Fires weren’t allowed (though they are in other parts of Colter Bay), so we had to buy a small charcoal grill in order to make dinner. Also, while showers were available, it cost $4.25 to take one – usury! I stayed in the hot water for at least an hour or so, just because. On the plus side, there was a nice tidy Laundromat (two washes, two soaps, one dryer = $7) and Jackson Lake was a short walk away, and not too cold to swim in, if you’re 10.

Full RV hookup (water, sewer, electricity)
Flush toilets
Hot showers available for $4.25
No fire ring

Madison Village Campground (Yellowstone National Park) – WY (four nights)
Madison was lovely in many ways. It’s well laid out, there was a mixture of smallish RVs and tent campers, and there was a dishwashing sink available (washing dishes in the RV got a little old). Every night, the park rangers do talks at the nearby amphitheater. The Madison river was a short walk away – and had hot spots in it (not wi-fi, but pockets of hot water) – and some elk ambled through on the last morning.

No hookup at site, but running water with a hose connection and a waste dump station was available near the entrance
Flush toilets, cold water sinks for dishwashing
Fire ring, with cooking grate (firewood available for sale)

Sunrise Campground (Uinta-Wasatch National Forest) – near Garden City, UT
Another lovely campsite – up the mountain from Bear Lake, which is an astonishingly blue natural lake, nearly 20 miles long, that straddles the border of Utah and Idaho. We were in the woods – aspens and pines all around – and could see a sliver of the lake. The campsite was quiet and well-kept, and true to its name, sunrise was beautiful.

No hookup, no water
Pit toilets
Fire ring, with cooking grate (firewood available for sale)

Anderson Cove Campground (Uinta-Wasatch National Forest) – near Ogden, UT
In some ways, this campground was nice – flat, and pretty, and right on a reservoir that was good for swimming. However, there were way too many motorboats and jet-skis in the reservoir (noisy), and the pit toilet was in terrible condition (smelly). Second worst campsite, after Colter Bay.

No hookup at site, but running water with a hose connection and a waste dump station was available near the entrance
Pit toilets – DISGUSTING
Fire ring, no cooking grate (firewood available for sale)

Part 1, The Hut, is here.