Indiana Winter: Cold, Flat, & Windy, Part II

It seems that I’ve been fooled. My first winter in Indiana, 2011-2012, was incredibly mild. Not only was there not one single large snowfall there was not much snow at all. Additionally, the temperature, while cold, was not consistently and continuously bitter. Oh, and I lived in an apartment with a garage. So, I never had to encounter snow directly: no shoveling, no sweeping, no cleaning off the car. All I had to do outside was walk the dog.

The Eel River frozen up to the falls.

The Eel River frozen up to the falls.

Everyone I’ve talked with about the weather (which is nearly everyone) told me not “get used to it.” I am afraid I did.

This winter is different. There have not been any giant snows, but we have had more snow and the temperatures have been way (at least it seems to me) colder. Days and days of temperatures under 20 degrees. Wind. Constant, cold wind with wind chills repeatedly below -10. Oh, and I now have a driveway to shovel, a walk to sweep, and neighborhood streets to try to navigate safely.

I have prided myself on the fact that I can handle cold weather and drive in the snow. I was raised in the mountains! It does snow in the mountains and it does get cold. However, it doesn’t stay this cold for this long, the snow doesn’t hang around for weeks from one storm, and it doesn’t snow this often. And, there is no wind there, at least not constant, extremely cold, and sustained winds.

This has been much more of an adjustment than I am comfortable admitting. It is not in my nature (or raising) to concede weakness or discomfort. Every time I walk out into the piercing cold wind I cringe. I long for some mountain cover. The question – why do I live here crosses my mind. Regularly. If I missed home when it was warm here, I miss home 1000x more now.

Luckily, I had the chance to escape the Midwest winter briefly. I spent part of the last week in Puerto Rico, where it was sunny, warm, and, like Fort Wayne, windy; there the wind blows warm. It was a much needed break even though I worked most of the trip. But that trip taught me a very important lesson. I now know the key to surviving a Midwestern winter. Take a break.

I learned how to use the panorama feature on my phone in PR.

Seasons change and I have access to airplanes. So, my new vacation window is going to be January to March, just in time for a nice break from the Midwestern winter.

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Gluten-Free Traveling: Compromises, Ziploc Bags, & Patience

“Ma’am, is this your bag?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I will need to run it through the scanner again.”

“Okay, thank you.”

This is the moment when, as an experienced traveler, I self-righteously wonder (to myself – I don’t talk back to TSA agents, please note me thanking her for holding me up) what in the world could she need to see again. My bag is fine. There are no contraband weapons, liquids, or matches in there.

Oh, wait, it is the food. Food, you say?

Yes, food. I bet they think it strange that my carry-on backpack contains gallon-sized Ziploc bags of KIND bars, bananas, apples, Glutino pretzels, tea-bags, cured meat, boiled eggs, and random vegetables.

That is right, due to my gluten house arrest, need to eat every three hours or so, and general distrust of most restaurants, I travel with food. Sometimes large amounts of it. This is not a problem when traveling by car. Obviously, road trips are manageable for traveling with your own kitchen. I can load up the passenger seat, take a cooler, and stop at grocery stores when I need to reload or refresh my stash.

Gluten-free snacks riding shotgun.

Gluten-free snacks riding shotgun.

Flying is a totally different story.

I try to take enough food so that I limit the amount of times I eat at restaurants, this decreases my risk of being exposed to gluten. However, traveling for more than 4 days is a challenge. Food is heavy and I hate to check bags (and I need to be able to take clothes with me), fruit doesn’t keep all that well in a suitcase or backpack, and I can only eat so many nut bars a day.

Make-shift hotel room kitchen.

Make-shift hotel room kitchen.

However, the biggest reason that gluten-free travel hard is that having fun and fabulous (according to me) food-related experiences is a big part of traveling for me.

Some of my most memorable travel experiences have been associated with food. I’ll never forget the tasting menu at Spoon in Kowloon while looking out at the Hong Kong skyline, lunching on tuna and foie gras with my best friend at Le Bernardin in New York City, eating squab at Le Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo (while my handbag sat on its own fancy little stool), drinks at the Oak Room in the Plaza Hotel with my Mommy and Sister, or eating giant portions of everything at the Hash House A-Go-Go with my family in Las Vegas. I love food. Food is not just about sustenance. I enjoy sharing food with people who I love about as much as I enjoy anything.

So, as a foodie, I am trying to figure out a way to live and travel the way I want to and still be healthy. In the short time I have been dealing with this it has become clear to me that the life of a foodie with celiac disease is emotionally, socially, and practically frustrating. It is also adventurous and full of compromises.

I don’t want to eat every meal in my hotel room, but I need to be safe. So, I take enough food to cover breakfast and all snacks. If it is a short trip I take breakfast and lunch. My standard buffet includes some sort of nut bar, apples, bananas (on a short jaunt), crackers or chips of some sort, vegetables that keep (green peppers, carrots, etc), and pepperoni (Boar’s Head). On the travel day I take my standard breakfast with me – two boiled eggs and a bag-o-fruit. Ziploc bags are my friend. This compromise allows me to focus on making the restaurant experiences I do get fantastic.

Before the trip I research restaurants at my destination that have gluten-free menus or focus on farm to fork cuisine. These types of restaurants seem to be the easiest to manage because most of the staff understand what I need or are willing to listen and help. You are not going to get that at a chain place. I do not eat at chain restaurants any more. They make me sick, literally. While traveling in Richmond, Virginia recently I had the great fortune to stay near the Urban Farmhouse, a great spot for gluten-free support. I also safely enjoyed dinner at The Blue Goat. Both places feature locally sourced food. They get food.

Next, I find the closest grocery store to my hotel. This is a great way to make sure you have fresh and varied things to eat while on the go. Also, if you are in a super cool place like New York City you can hit a Dean & Deluca and really treat yourself to something you probably can’t find at home. This is also key if the room does not have a refrigerator or the mini-bar fridge is not usable (you know, the kind that has sensors and if I shove something in there and move a bottle I end up getting charged $8.00 for a Coke I won’t drink).

I love hot tea and I like to try all different kinds. Sadly, though, it sometimes is not safe and you can’t always trust what the coffee shop or restaurant is going to sell you. So, I bring my own. I am the person who drives through or walks up to Starbucks and asks for a grande cup of hot water . . . I am not ashamed. Sometimes they charge me a quarter and sometimes they don’t, either way I get my tea. Speaking of water, I could not live without my trusty green Nalgene bottle. I bought this bottle in preparation for Coachella 2012 and it is one of the best things I have ever done. I drink a gallon or more of water a day and the 32 ounce bottle allows me to keep up with that while not being tempted to drink other things. Drinks can contain gluten too (watch out for smoothies, juices, etc). In fact, you will find that airport bars, Starbucks, and other places will fill up the bottle for you if you ask. Yes, it does help the environment but I’d be lying if I said that was part of my plan. It’s a nice incidental benefit, though.

So far, these little compromises with my immune system are working out well. I get to enjoy my trips and have more confidence that I will feel well (even though I know nothing’s 100% safe unless I make it). Also, dealing with fewer restaurants decreases my stress level and allows me to better enjoy my dinner company (rather than fretting about whether the server understands or nervously googling the ingredient, restaurant, or dish on my iPhone). I still have missteps, problems, and get sick but I am learning.

I am growing to appreciate the quote “It is not about perfection, it is about progress” more and more these days.

Boston in Pictures

I just made my first trip to Boston. It is nothing if not charming. I stayed in the theatre district and spent two days walking the city. The location was perfect and Boston was easier to navigate than I expected. It was interesting, beautiful, and fun.

The Boston Common and Public Gardens were the perfect introduction to Boston. You get the history, the pretty, and, if you are lucky, nice enough December weather to be outside.

After a tour through the Common I wandered through Beacon Hill. It is a lovely urban community. A cross between Colonial Williamsburg and Manhattan with super cool doors.

Next, I picked up The Freedom Trail at the Massachusetts State House. It was getting dark at this point and I was hustling to see as much as possible before dark caught me, especially the burial grounds at the Park Street Church. This is when I punched myself in the stomach. Seriously. I was crossing the street from the Common to Park Street Church. Rather than watch where I was going I was taking a picture AND walking (see the picture below) and walked directly into a huge green rib-cage-level pole in front of two lanes of traffic. Full speed. I have never been punched in the stomach but I imagine that this is what it would feel like. I was embarrassed but could not be too concerned about the gawking bus driver and passengers since I could neither breath nor stand-up straight. So, for a time I sat at the foot of the Boston Common sign trying to decide if I was really hurt or if the pain would pass. I was not and it did. I just felt stupid. Live it, learn it.

My last day was spent wandering through Newbury and Boylston Streets doing some window shopping and taking in the view. This is where I learned that I sound Australian, at least to a sales representative at Brooks Brothers. Maybe she had talked with the taxi driver from the day before who asked me if I am British. Who knew the Appalachian twang was so hard to decipher?

The storefront used in Cheers made this leg of the tour as did the view from the Prudential Tower and the Boston Public Library.

No trip of mine would be complete without some food pictures . . . the eating is good in Boston. I planned dinners at Market by Jean-Georges and Nebo, but oysters at Neptune was an impromptu stop and by far the best eating I did the three days I was there and I just had oysters. Super good.

There is plenty more of Boston to see, but for this first trip I feel like I covered some serious territory in a day and a half. My muscles are still sore and my feet are still recovering. I will go back, if only to hear someone say “wicked smahhrt.”

Fall in Indiana, Part 2

Football.

I was raised by a raging football fans. My childhood Friday nights and Saturdays were spent at high school football fields or college football stadiums. Until 2011 my Daddy had not missed a football game played by our high school alma mater since the early 1980’s. My mom is indignant toward people who leave games early because their team was far behind. She would say “true fans stay until the end.” She is big on loyalty. Football is serious, people, we are talking life lessons here.

Recently, I told my parents that I was going to be on the “chain gang” at a small college football game. I totally under estimated their interest. My Daddy declared to my Mom, Sister, and Brother-in-Law that this was the closest thing we were going to get to having someone in our family (we are all girls) play football. He was psyched.

So psyched, in fact, that he drove 7 hours (one-way) to FW to watch me run the chains.

It was super fun, well, after I realized that it was not my job to follow the down box guy. It is kind of important for me to stay at the spot of the ball. I only did that twice, but of course, my lone fan in attendance noticed.

I learned that working the chains is not as easy as it looks, football players are really smelly, the referees talk to the players a lot more than I thought, and I can move a good size guy in football pads with a hip check. Even better, the day was gorgeous, it was a high scoring (the chains moved a lot) game, and my team won. That is a good day.

Now, I can check that one off my bucket list. It was right after milking a cow.

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: An Epic Friday Night

“Can’t you feel those hills around you, Can’t you feel that touch of home, And don’t you wish you’d never gone, There are some things memories can’t bring home.” Hazel Dickens

There is one weekend every year when State Street in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee turns into a haven for Americana, folk, and bluegrass musicians. It is the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion (“BRRR”). I headed south into the mountains from the flatlands of Indiana for a visit with my precious family and Friday night at BRRR.

I have not missed a BRRR since 2003 (I think), back when it was just a couple thousand people and I was living in walking distance (if you had to walk). Now, it is becoming a top-notch festival. While I am biased, I would recommend BRRR to anyone. You can’t beat great bands, both new an old, kind people, and a fun atmosphere.

Sunshine and her hubby were my partners in crime for the evening. Sunshine’s man is an organizer extraordinaire, so our itinerary was well-researched and set. We started with dinner at 620 State with a prime view of State Street and the tunes of J.P. Parsons in the background. Bless the hearts of those folks at 620, they carefully helped me have a nice gluten-free dinner on a crazy busy night with a limited menu. From our dinner table I happily spotted friends and acquaintances from my former life. Oh, and former Governor and candidate for the Virginia Senate Tim Kaine.

Our line up for the rest of night was Whiskey Gentry, Lydia Loveless, Folk Soul Revival, The Black Lillies, Billy Joe Shaver, and City and Colour. All were good, if not exceptional. However, for me the night was epic because it was a delightful combination of some of my all time favorite tunes and one of my all time favorite people.

Folk Soul Revival not only played Sweet Virginia (I like to think it is what the Commonwealth is singing to me), but they covered Tom Petty’s Don’t Do Me Like That and Prince’s Purple Rain. Yes, Purple Rain. It was awesome. Also, Tim Kaine played the harmonica on a number with Folk Soul for Tennessee Shines, an excellent radio program for WDVX out of Knoxville, Tennessee. Folk Soul Revival laid it down, big time.

Speaking of Knoxville, Tennessee, The Black Lillies (based in my law school stomping grounds of Knoxville) played like their hair was on fire at the Paramount Theatre. I adore this band. Their music is independent, personal, and high order entertaining. As an additional bonus, they are nice people and Cruz Contreras and the boys in the band are all easy on the eyes. However, the lone lady in the band stole the show on Friday night. Trisha Gene Brady gave a moving (she was brought to tears herself) a cappella performance of Hazel Dickens’s Hills of Home. It was amazing. Sunshine looked at me afterward and said “that had to be worth the trip” and, indeed, it was. I would happily drive again from FW to Bristol to hear it. They also did one of my all time favorites – There’s Only One – which made me smile. If you haven’t bought the music of The Black Lillies, please do yourself a favor and do it now.

The cherry on my Friday night at BRRR sundae came from a music veteran. This guy was writing songs for the Outlaws . . . hello, Waylon. I have been listening to Billy Joe Shaver for years. He is a lovely man. Once a hell raiser and now a Jesus advocate. I met him twice, once in Houston and then in Knoxville, and he is just a joy (I like to think he was telling the truth when he said he remembered me). I wandered down to the State Street stage after The Black Lillies just in time to hear Billy Joe Shaver belt out I’m Gonna Live Forever. No one does this tune like him. And for the frat-boy next to me who thinks that is a Robert Earl Keen song, puh-lease. Billy Joe was writing those kinds of tunes when REK was knee-high to a grasshopper. Billy Joe wrote that song with his son Eddie, a talented guitarist who died too young. Hearing it live is almost a religious experience.

It was a perfect end to a perfect evening. Heck, even the weather was perfect. This was the best Friday night at BRRR in my memory. The music was epic and the company was perfect.

Thanks to Sunshine, her man, and Bristol for making it a beautiful night.

The Anchor Leg: Niagara Falls

Here we are at the end of the line. I left Niagara-on-the-Lake with a two spot itinerary, first Niagara Falls then home. The only way to get from Niagara-on-the-Lake is the parkway, stay off the QEW. The parkway is too pretty to miss.

The Falls are everything they are described to be. Loud. The roar from the water is amazing. Lovely (and loud) white noise. Wet. What people like to call a “mist” is just straight up rain. Seriously. Even if you are just doing what I did and staying at the Table Rock over look you need to take a poncho, umbrella, or rain jacket. When the wind hits the “mist” consider yourself drenched and cold. Beautiful. It is undeniably beautiful. Additional proof, in my opinion, that God is the most talented artist.

I enjoyed my visit, although I kind of pulled a Clark-Griswold-at-the-Grand-Canyon . . . I parked, got out, walked up to it, thought here it is, took some pictures, and left.

Things to know about a visit to the Falls before you visit:

  1. It is a total tourist trap. How can you tell? There is a casino, a Hershey Store, and a Hard Rock Cafe (on both the Canada and U.S.A. sides).
  2. Bring a towel or something to keep your phone or camera lens wiped down. Remember, it is wet there.
  3. Parking at the designated Falls parking lot in Canada will cost you $20.00 and best I can tell there is no where else to park. Monopoly.
  4. The Rainbow Bridge crossing the gorge will be slow-moving but the pictures will be worth it.
  5. People there and throughout Ontario love to say escarpment, as in the Niagara escarpment. Be prepared.

Now for the pictures. Enjoy and don’t forget to pack your raincoat.

I left the Falls and had an uneventful return to FW. It was a great adventure. I look forward to heading out again soon.

P.S. If you missed my blather on my other stops on this trip you check them out . . . Oh Canada!Toronto 1, Toronto 2, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Gluten-free Travel, and Traveling Solo. Thanks for tolerating my shameless self-promotion.

Second Stop: Niagara-on-the-Lake

My meandering through Niagara wine country ended in the tiny little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (“NOTL”). NOTL is a historic town that sits right on the Niagara River as it strays from or into (whichever it is) Lake Ontario. NOTL was the first capitol of Ontario, hosted battles in the War of 1812, and is home to the Shaw Festival. It is a wonderful spot for history buffs and theatre enthusiasts.

I arrived in the afternoon, just in time for lunch. I took up temporary residence at The Moffat Inn just east of the main drag in NOTL (Queen Street). The Moffat is small, quaint, and accommodating. Of course, immediately upon arrival I requested a different room. My original room was right next to the back door which stays unlocked all night. Um,no. The desk clerk was kind enough to move me (after calling to see if a sister hotel in town could accommodate me), very kind. I then set out to explore.

There is a town park is right across the street from the Inn that was filled with people, music, and children playing in the water fountain. On down was the grand Prince of Wales Hotel, where you can have high tea and dine in style. Passed the Prince of Wales is a street filled, I imagine everyday all summer, with tourists. It is a tourist town, which means it is required to be filled with random shops catering to the needs of tourists (needs that they don’t know they have until they get there). I was not in the mood to participate in tourist shopping (when you are traveling solo your budget tends to be smaller), but I was looking for food.

Doors of the Prince of Wales, which are constantly manned by a gloved gentleman.

I opted for something Greek at Yianni’s Mediterranean Cuisine. I enjoyed a full plate of stuffed eggplant, which the server kind confirmed was gluten-free. I know, the asking gets old but I have to do it. Sigh. I cleaned my plate and enjoyed the cool quiet back patio location.

One of the primary attractions in NOTL is The Shaw Festival. The Shaw Festival is an extremely active theatre organization that operates in four local theaters in NOTL and “produces and presents the work of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and playwrights writing anywhere in the world during, or about, the era of Shaw’s lifetime.” I immediately took the position that if I was going to have a NOTL experience I needed to see a show. I went to the box office at The Royal George Theatre and bought a ticket for 8:00 p.m. performance of His Girl Friday.

I took the rest of the afternoon off. I sat on my deck at the Inn, watched people, and worked on my pictures from Toronto. It was a lovely break followed by a much needed nap. My nap was followed by a walk down to the water and enjoy the view. You can see the Toronto skyline from NOTL and many folks were playing, resting, and visiting in the park. Very pretty.

The theatre features a 30 minute talk on each production prior to start of the play. So, I wandered over to the Festival Theatre in time for the talk. Luckily, the theatre has a little cafe in the lobby so I snacked and listened to the history of His Girl Friday. It was a nice preface to what was a fun show. The theatre was crowded with locals and tourists alike. Once the show began I understood why, the acting was outstanding. The female lead was especially charming and engaging. It was a great time. The theatre is worth a trip to NOTL.

Admittedly, I used a chunk of my time in NOTL to recover from the marathon of walking I did in Toronto. NOTL is a great place to relax. You can enjoy your quaint old hotel or Inn, lounge in the park and people watch, or pound the pavement shopping and visiting art galleries and restaurants. Either way, it is a peaceful time in NOTL.

It is a nice little town, but be advised that there will be tourists, and plenty of them. Some like me and some worse. My visit to NOTL was short, but enjoyable. Next, I made my way out of NOTL and down the parkway thirty minutes to Niagara Falls, where this story ends.