Mindful, Perhaps Green, Shopping

Thanksgiving now over, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas! My parents, brother, sister-in-law, aunt and possibly cousin are visiting us this year, to see our new home and bunnies. I am so excited to celebrate with the whole family this year, and I’m already making a list of things that need to be done – enough Christmas stockings for everyone, where and/or what do we eat, what fun post-Christmas things can we do…?

This year we all managed to agree to *not* buy each other Christmas presents. It’s something we discuss every year, but this year, we are committed. None of us needs anything, and besides, it’s more about being together. Since they are all flying here, we are gifting them an overnight stay in the Shenandoah Valley, which will be more fun in the long run. If nothing else, we’ll roll our eyes for years over the fact that any restaurant we go to there won’t be prepared for four vegetarians! (There is one small caveat – we are each getting each other one $5 stocking stuffer, something edible, handmade or eco-friendly.)

On the heels of this agreement came a report that talks about the high environmental cost of delivery. In “The Environmental Cost of Free 2-Day Delivery,” published on Vox on November 17, the authors of a study done at the University of California Davis tell us that the emissions from delivery trucks are worse than the emissions of individual cars driving around to malls and stores to buy things. The big challenge is 2-day shipping – that rush to have things immediately is killing our environment. Erk. One of the ways I manage to be car-free is to have as much delivered as possible. Josué Velázquez, director of the MIT Sustainable Logistics Department, says in a related article on Huffington Post that getting companies to add buttons sharing the impact of free 2-day shipping might inspire consumers to opt for slower delivery options. Knowing that choosing 4-5 day delivery will only kill 10 trees, compared to killing 3,000 for 2-day delivery would work for me! In fact, it already has.

I would hate to lose these trees, so I will think differently the next time I place an order.

Part of my plans for the holidays involve sewing projects that require fabrics and patterns I can’t buy locally, on my bike or otherwise. So now I really need to think about it – how much can I order from one place? I should order it all now, so that I can pick the slowest delivery option available, and not need it in a rush. And while I’m thinking about that, I need to be mindful of everything else we need this month, and moving forward. How to we continue to reduce our impact? Do we wean ourselves off Amazon? <gasp!> I think this means more trips to NYC to stock up for my sewing projects!

Started my McCalls 7667 coat, using corduroy as the “muslin” to test the fit. I still need to order lining and interlining.

If the thought of giving up free 2-day delivery right before the holidays stresses you out a bit, here are a few positive, encouraging stories about how the fashion world is trying to help the environment.

Swedish Plant Burns H&M Rags Instead of Coal, on The Business of Fashion website

How C&A Created the World’s First Cradle to Cradle T-Shirt, on Greenbiz.com

So Much to Be Thankful For

Hard to believe it’s almost Thanksgiving but it is! This will be the first year The Mechanic and I spend in our new home, so it is an extra special year. We don’t have much planned, other than trying to cross off things from our lengthy New Home list. We did order a vegan meal from Whole Foods and we found a bottle of Straffe Hendrik Quadruple Ale, a favorite from our honeymoon visit to Bruges. Something special for a special first holiday.

Yum, Belgian beer!

We have so much to be thankful for this year: new house and new bunnies being top of the list. I’m thankful that the home buying process and subsequent move went as smoothly as they did, and I’m thankful that incorporating two new bunnies into our little family went smoothly as well. Gaston, Sullivan and Quinn are all happily enjoying each other’s company as well as their pen and free space. Our friends and families have been so excited for us, and I’m thankful as always for them. I’m also thankful, and somewhat surprised, that for the first time in my adult life, I feel connected to a community. It’s a nice feeling, belonging, and knowing neighbors. I’m thankful Arlington has turned out to be such a wonderful place to live. I’m thankful for the support of my social media “family” as well. I’ve learned so many new things and been exposed to a wider world than I would experience on my own, and I have all of you to thank for that. It’s wonderful, getting to connect virtually with people of similar hobbies, tastes and values.

Seasonal mini quilt, made by my mother. I’m so glad I finally have a good place to display it!

Most importantly, I’m thankful that I found The Mechanic. (I’m sure he’d say the same about me!) Having a partner in crime, mechanic, bike expert, newly converted bunny enthusiast dad and equally reluctant cook is amazing. And I’m so thankful. So is my bike.Whatever you do this week, I hope your Thanksgiving is full of love and laughter, and maybe some biking or sewing, and definitely some pumpkin…

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Nothing But Flowers

Life has been a bit crazy and a lot boring from too much going on – and by boring, I mean, work work work work work. No biking and no sewing. I haven’t even gotten the sewing space set up yet! Although that is partially because I spent most of Sunday binge watching Netflix series “Grace and Frankie.” It’s a fun show that packs a serious emotional punch at the same time. A highly scientific Facebook survey of my friends showed that I am not the only one my age who likes this show about retired couples. Everyone has given it thumbs up.

Binge watching aside, I apparently needed time away from everything. The Mechanic was out of town for the weekend, so it was just Gaston and I puttering around the apartment. I did get most of my to-do list done, so it wasn’t totally wasted, but still, no biking and no sewing. So instead of photos of a fun bike ride or my latest sewing project, all I have for you is flowers. But you know what? Sometimes I think we all need a little more beauty in our lives.

We have had a ton of rain lately (although that is fairly normal for summers here, it somehow seems like more than our fair share), and with that we get mushrooms popping up on the lawns everywhere. I love the ones that create fairy rings, or almost rings. Don’t they seem magical? My favorite, however, is this spot of sidewalk where annually some zinnia pushes through the cement and makes it’s own statement. It’s like one of those motivational posters, don’t you think?

Nevertheless, it persisted

Surprises in Northeastern Oregon

I missed a regular blog post earlier this week because The Mechanic and I were in Northeastern Oregon on a family trip. My dad’s side of the family gathered to say goodbye to my grandparents with a celebration of life and scattering of their ashes. I hadn’t been there in seven years, for my grandfather’s 90th birthday, and enjoyed exploring with fresh eyes.

Thirty-five years ago, my dad’s dad and his second wife moved to Lostine, Oregon, a small town in Wallowa County, Oregon. Their property, titled Big Foot Ranch (no idea why), is tucked in a narrow valley between Lostine and Enterprise. I was ten when they moved, and got to travel with them in my great-grandmother’s fifth wheel trailer – a huge adventure to me. Every summer thereafter we drove up to visit them. I rode their horse, swam in the irrigation ditch, and learned to drive on a Model A Ford pickup and an old John Deere tractor. (There goes my city creds – The Mechanic now has plenty of ammo to call me a country girl!)

Enterprise, in the far northeast corner of Oregon

To get there, we flew into Boise, the closest airport, and after meeting up with my brother and sister-in-law (who flew in from Texas), drove four hours to Enterprise. After being greeted by the beef industry in the Boise airport, we joked about what the cattle-raising locals would think when four  vegetarians rolled into town.My grandparents’ property is so lovely, with the rushing river and fields on either side. Marching up the hillside through the weeds is still the same, returning with socks and shoe laces full of burrs. This is my kind of wilderness! Also, the low humidity was sooo refreshing, despite the high temperatures.

I have changed in the seven years (!!!) since I’d been to my grandparents’ – then I was single, newly moved from Manhattan to Washington, DC, and unhappy with my job. Wanting to show The Mechanic all the things my brother and I grew up doing in Oregon made everything new. The biggest surprise was how bike-y the area is – whaat? Bike lanes through the middle of Enterprise?! And Joseph, OR, not only had bike lanes, but bike racks shaped like bikes, and one store had a large “Bike Friendly” sign out front, notifying all that not only were there bike racks, but drinking fountains, public restrooms and package shipping. I’ve never even seen this on stores here in the DC metro area! The Mechanic and I chatted with a woman who had been biking 65 miles into Enterprise, to get to Terminal Gravity Brewing. She said that for the most part, cars were pretty respectful of her and kept their distance, because not all the roads have decent shoulders and space to bike. I had heard that the area was trying hard to promote cycle tourism, and now I believe it.

Another surprise was just how much we loved the town of Joseph. It’s Main Street is maybe 5 blocks long, but it packs a ton of cute into those blocks. Famous for the bronze foundry, Joseph has a huge arts scene. Every corner had artwork in brilliant floral beds, every other store was something related to the arts (a wonderful quilt store too!), not to mention the artisan chocolate shop, the bistros and restaurants, and the murals. If you are looking for a relaxing, small town getaway with tons to do and see, this is your destination.

Wallowa Lake was also a surprise – having been in the area for so many years, I don’t know why we never hung out at the lake. My parents, brother, sister-in-law, The Mechanic and I ended up spending a very, very relaxing afternoon reading in the park by the lake. We had gone up to the top of Mt. Howard on the Wallowa Lake Tramway to admire the mountain views, and had planned on renting kayaks. Instead, we enjoyed the beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery around us. Ah….

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All around are remembrances of the Nez Perce tribe, native to the Wallowa area. As obsessed with Native Americans as I was as a child, I don’t remember exploring any of their history while visiting my grandparents. So I was pleased to be able to see a small bit of their history at the Old Chief Joseph Gravesite and Joseph Canyon from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Viewpoint.

It seems like we packed a lot into a short trip; this doesn’t even include our evening at Terminal Gravity (their grassy front lawn will make you stay far longer than you planned!) and the day we spent with extended family and friends remembering my grandparents. I will leave you with more photos of the area. It is just so beautiful that photos don’t do it justice. I’m glad I got to visit one last time and have these images to share with you.

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But now we are home and I’m back to embrace my kind of outdoorsy –

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Tulips and Bicycles in Philly

A friend and I spent a freezing cold Saturday in Philadelphia, PA, admiring all types of plants in wild, brilliant blooms, at the Philadelphia Flower Show. The theme was “Holland: Flowering the World,” and my hopes for tulips and bicycles were happily achieved – so many of the display gardens featured bicycles in some way or another. Tulips, my favorite flowers, were present everywhere. I have never been to the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society’s 188-year-old flower show, but my gardening friend and I were eager to go, and let Reston Limo to do the driving. Taking a day trip in a motorcoach from the Vienna Metro Station to the Convention Center in Philly was the perfect way to spend time with flowers, and each other (see, who needs a car?). I was expecting an exhibit hall of floral landscapes and scenes, but in fact, the show is divided up into several sections. We started with the landscapes, worked our way through the educational displays (where sustainability was on gorgeous display), then studied some of the art displays before walking through the plant competition on our way to the market place, then checked out the complimentary wine and spirits tasting. There was so much to see that we didn’t get to see it all! We also ran through the Reading Terminal Market, which was across the street, and a quick peek into The Fabric Workshop and Museum. Whew! So much to do in a day!

I loved the creative landscapes:

And I loved that so many of the landscapes included bicycles and bike parts: There was definite emphasis on how bicycles are embraced by the Dutch, as well as a sustainable form of transportation. Something I wasn’t expecting was all the cool artistic flower displays, which were really amazing:

I was inspired by all the displays about sustainability and green space, and its importance in cities, and hope that visitors had a chance to really read some of the signs and information.

It was a shame that the weather was so cold, because I had made a long-promised dress for my friend, and it was too cold for her to wear it. I guess she’ll will have to wait until the weather really is spring-like to wear her floral print spring dress! But isn’t it cute?

McCalls 6520 with modified sleeve – the perfect flower show dress, if it had been warmer!

It was so much fun getting to indulge in flowers, friendship and, as always, bicycles, for a day. I think we will add this to our annual “things to do” list! To see more and better photos of the flowers, and shots without the crowds, check out the article in the Washington Post.

On Balancing Gift Giving and Sustainability

I love the holiday season for so many reasons – holiday lights everywhere, a sense of magic, gluehwein, Christmas tree ornaments, and gift giving. I really enjoy giving gifts – finding something that is special and meaningful for friends and family, picking out fun and thematic gift wrap, and seeing the presents pile up. In my family, stocking stuffers are a big deal. Not $20 luxury candles, as some companies would have you think is appropriate for a stocking gift, but small things, like little Kleenex packets, lip balm, candies, and so on, all $5 or under. (Okay, that still adds up, depending on how large your stocking is!) Finding fun small things is almost more fun to me than big presents!

But over the years, as my brother and I have grown out of the toy phase of life (well, mostly!), and we become more aware of our impact on this planet, mad, frantic gift buying seems inappropriate. So this article from MindBodyGreen struck a chord with me, “Eco-Friendly Everything: How to Make Your Holiday Shopping A More Conscious Experience.”

Most of the gifts I give need to be mailed - California, Texas, New York, Germany...

Most of the gifts I give need to be mailed – California, Texas, New York, Germany…

Tip #1, “Remember that less is more,” is high on my list right now, since we moved last month. Packing up everything then getting rid of stuff we just don’t need makes this much more important to me – we don’t want stuff! I always try to pay attention to Tip #2 – I would never get anyone something that they couldn’t use or don’t need. I believe in shopping small anyway, as someone who sews – I would always rather support local artists if I can. The Mechanic and I like to do experiences. This year we are going to see “The Nutcracker” on Christmas Eve, plus, we have a big trip in January, and are saving up for that. nutcracker-2

Tip #6 is the tip I am trying out this year. We’ve talked about it for years – it would be better to donate to a worthy cause than to spend the money on more stuff. And the time seems right to support the organizations that work on things we value as a family, especially environmental protection and education. You get a donation, and you get a donation, and you get a donation! This could be fun! christmas-tree

It’s actually harder than I though to find The Right Organization, however! There are several really great organizations that protect the environment – Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resource Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy…. and on and on. Then there are educational organizations, everything from directly impacting children’s literacy, like Reading is Fundamental, to educational groups such as Southern Poverty Law Center that fights and educates about hate, intolerance and discrimination. I looked for tips and suggestions in “The Giving List,” to see what other, more active and aware people are suggesting.

Although I worry a bit that my family will be disappointed with only a few gifts this year, I hope they will be more touched and pleased when they read the cards notifying them that donations have been made in their names. Somehow it seems like a better legacy to leave behind. It could become the new Christmas stocking tradition – “Which organization is it this year?!” And maybe I’ll start sewing Christmas presents over the summer next year, to round out more conscious gift giving.

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October Travel Recap: Biking in Shenandoah

My second “catch up” blog post from the traveling I’ve done this month! Soon I should be back on track – at least a bit…

I’ve wanted to go to the Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival for a few years now – biking through the Shenadoah Valley in October = fall colors, farms, exploring new places, stretching the bike legs. Also, it’s proximity to the Frontier Culture Museum was a huge lure; that’s a museum I’ve wanted to go to for a while. This year, The Mechanic and I blocked the weekend and made sure to go. staunton-welcomes-cyclists-sign

Admittedly, blocking the weekend did not equal being prepared. We registered late, which made it more expensive, and were madly throwing anything and everything together the day we left. We planned to camp, since the Festival offers cheap camping on the soccer field at the middle school headquarters. Yep, not really prepared to camp. But that’s okay, because we had a great time!

I was so impressed about the way the host town of Staunton, VA welcomed the festival and how organized everything was. There were signs everywhere welcoming cyclists, and stores in the historic downtown area all had signs welcoming cyclists; some offered discounts. The hostess at one restaurant told us that the Saturday night of the Festival is their busiest night *of the year*. Still don’t believe in the economic power of people on bikes? staunton-welcomes-cyclists

I was highly impressed by the festival booklet that everyone received. The booklet contained cue sheets for every single ride of the two days, in tear-out pages. Each page included the map, cues, the “need help” phone number, and a QR code if you wanted to download it. The booklet also contained the full Festival schedule, Friday, October 14- Sunday, October 16th, a map of this historic downtown, information on local shops and Festival sponsors, driving directions to the remote start locations, and a recap of how the Festival put our registration dollars to work, donating to local charities and initiatives. I guess after 26 years of organizing this event, they know what they are doing, but I am still impressed by all this. cue-sheet-booklet

Part of our non-preparation (I kept thinking of Rootchopper’s No Wrong Plan Trip) meant that we arrived at registration Friday night after dark. That meant setting up the tent in the dark. After we went to find dinner. Sorry, other bike campers! We took our commuter bikes, since we sold our road bikes, which meant a more comfortable weekend. I never even wore my padded bike shorts, which I took. In fact, we pretty much stood out as the only cyclists *not* wearing cycling kit. If we’d done longer rides, of course it would have been a different story. But I enjoyed our leisurely approach to the Festival.

Another part of our non-preparation meant that instead of doing the 34-mile loop that we’d planned to do, we did the short 13-mile “family ride.” We were too exhausted from the week to get up early, and wanted to get in some area sightseeing as well. No big deal – the 13 mile loop, which started from Natural Chimneys park, which had once been renown for jousting, was lovely and we were quite happy with our laziness. Sunday we were more on the ball and got a reasonable start to the 20-mile farm loop, which included stops at three farms. Well, one was a bushel of apples set out for cyclists at an orchard, one was a pickling farm stop, and the last, official stop was Polyface Farms, famous for “radical” farming ideas that include healing the earth and being sustainable. We had hoped for an educational component to that stop, to learn more about their mission and values and techniques, but had to settle for hot dogs and “switchel” offered by polite middle school students. (I was happy to see friendly bunnies, even though I know they are being raised for their meat…) farm-ridefields

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We ate well in several downtown Staunton restaurants and cafes (more vegetarian options in this tiny 10-block town than in all of the DC area!), enjoyed the Frontier Culture Museum, and had absolutely perfect weather!

We are definitely adding this bike weekend to our schedule for next year. There is still more in the area that we haven’t explored, and with so many route options, we know we will see new things. And maybe be a bit better prepared for the camping….

Fields of Gold in Shenadoah

Fields of Gold in Shenadoah

 

Let Nature Nurture

There is a lot of pain, fear and anger in the world these days. I don’t know if it is worse than years, generations, decades or even centuries past, but it is certainly stressful. I have been avoiding the news, discussing the news, thinking about the news… I just need some time to recover from the raw emotions of the shootings in the United States, I need time to fully process and recover my strength. I don’t have time to turn to nature to help me heal, so instead, I’ve been hunting through my photos for pictures of some of my favorite healing nature places.

Water

My most relaxing place is the ocean. I love the crash of the waves on the rocks in Mendocino, which is my happy place. But there are many oceans, and rivers, and bays, and lakes, and other places that have water that make me happy.

Trees

I love trees, too. I love their huge size, the bright green when the leaves are new, the dramatic skeletons when the leaves are gone… In forests and in fields, and down the street from me. Trees are completely uplifting.

Blossoms

Any bright and cheerful blossom in the spring makes me smile – I can’t get enough of the gorgeous colors around me then. When I lived in New York City, I lived near Fort Tryon Park, and spent years wandering through the park soaking up the vivid colors. And I’ve always loved gardens – botanical gardens, gardens at historic estates, gardens of my neighbors. Bright colors make me happy! 2015_Dogwood blossomsChristina's Flower 2

Fort Tryon Park, in 2007

Fort Tryon Park, in 2007

Just looking at these pictures make me happier, and perhaps more resilient. Of course, they also bring back happy memories, which probably also lowers my stress level. It’s a nice reminder to see adventures with friends and family over the years.

I hope you have a moment to stop and smell the flowers and enjoy the trees. It won’t solve the world’s problems, but it might make them easier to stomach. red poppies

Unexpected Treats in Northwest Arkansas

The Mechanic and I took advantage of the Fourth of July long weekend to visit his father in Missouri. Although Poppa Mechanic (who is himself a mechanic and restores and uses tractors and farm equipment) lives in Missouri, he lives so close to the Arkansas border that we fly into Bentonville, AR, and most of our adventures are in Arkansas. I had only visited Poppa Mechanic once, several winters ago, and it was freezing cold, plus there was an ice storm! On that trip we enjoyed Crystal Bridges and Eureka Springs  so I was glad to have the opportunity to visit while the weather was better. The Mechanic and I were surprised and impressed at some of the unexpected treats we found. NW Arkansas

Caves and Cliffs

I have never visited this part of the US before meeting The Mechanic, so that makes all of this area new.  I’m especially enthralled with the caves and rocky bluffs everywhere! Near Poppa Mechanic is a cave that has been converted into an outdoor bar, and another is called the Old Spanish Treasure Cave. Ooh, fun! So visiting War Eagle Cavern was our second stop off the plane. The inside was not as spectacular as the entrance (and the tour guide’s grasp of science and history was questionable) but the entrance was AMAZING! Just like old movies or books, with green vines dripping over the edge – so cool. War Eagle Cavern Entrance

Its hard to get a proper picture from the back seat of the car, but these bluffs or cliffs or whatever they are called are literally over the road everywhere!

Its hard to get a proper picture from the back seat of the car, but these bluffs or cliffs or whatever they are called are literally over the road everywhere!

Elven Chapel

The Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel really isn’t an elven chapel, of course, but boy does it look like one! It’s secluded location belies the fact that it is minutes off the highway in Bella Vista, AR. Between the slender, graceful swooping design of the chapel and the quiet woods surrounding it, I expected Galadriel herself to open the door to us. The architect, local Fayetteville, AR, boy E. Fay Jones, had studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, and also designed Thorncrown Chapel, just outside of Eureka Springs. If I’d known when we passed it on our last trip I would have insisted we stop. Cooper Memorial Chapel is simply magical inside and I was envious of the engaged pair touring the chapel as a possible wedding site. I hope they picked it.Cooper Memorial 2Cooper Memorial 1Good Eats

The Mechanic and I had discussed what we’d do when faced with limited vegetarian dining options, but never had to worry. Every restaurant we went to was a delicious surprise for us non-meat eaters. Even Poppa Mechanic joined us in our vegetarianism!

The first stop was the War Eagle Mill, just outside of Rogers, AR, which The Mechanic remembered as a child. A beautiful location, so many options of flour, cornmeal and more, and best of all, one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had in their Bean Palace Cafe on the top floor of the working mill. War Eagle MillOur next surprise dining experience was in Historic Downtown Rogers, the next day. We ducked into Hammontree’s Grilled Cheese and found a hidden gem. Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, plus every gourmet hot dog could be made with a veggie dog! A long list of local brews, a vintage bar and a ginormous pterodactyl over the entrance were other treats but the Star Wars themed art and menu items really sold me on the place. Feel free to open another location in Arlington, guys!

At the end of that day, we had ended up in Fayetteville, AR, further south, and with no idea where to eat, simply Googled “Vegetarian restaurants” and ended up at the charming Eco-conscious Greenhouse Grille. Our meal there was delicious, and left us pining for such an option at home.

Sewing Store!

I never know what we’ll run into when cruising a “historic downtown” of any small town, but I couldn’t have been happier to run across The Rabbit’s Lair. A sewing and knitting store located in a beautifully preserved pharmacy, The Rabbit’s Lair is the kind of sewing store I wish existed in more places. I did end up buying a few things, yarn and an embroidery kit, but I’m sure I would have found more if I’d stayed there longer! I mean, bunnies and sewing! I <heart> this!

The Farm

In addition to these stops, plus a few others (Who knew there was a Daisy Airgun Museum?! Yes, as in “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” And the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks was lovely), we spent a day on Poppa Mechanic’s farm, feeding cows and driving tractors. The wheat fields were beautiful in between crazy thunder and lightening storms, and I loved looking across the fields to see them twinkle with the light of more lightening bugs than I’ve ever seen before. The highlight for me was getting to drive a vintage Ford tractor, reliving the summer I was 15 and learned to drive, on a John Deere tractor, on my grandfather’s farm.

This quick trip was so much fun and definitely left me ready to return and explore the area even more. It was a great way to celebrate our nation’s birth. Trucks

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Sustainability in Shenandoah

The Mechanic and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary, and since the date falls midweek (June 14, in fact!), we celebrated over the weekend by hiking in Shenandoah National Park.

Looking West from Stony Man Summit

Looking Northwest from Stony Man Summit

 

The Mechanic, who prefers roughing it, agreed to stay at the Skylands Resort overnight, mostly so I could convince him to eat at the restaurant – I really wanted to celebrate with the famous blackberry ice cream pie! We stayed in a cabin, which was slightly deceptive, because we didn’t get our own cabin, but rather, a fourth of one of the original cabins.  It was charming, small, and rustic, but the charm mostly wore off as we watched a mouse exploring our belongings after we got into bed. Erk. The resort was fully booked, so we spent the night with all of our belongings in the rental car, while I sweltered with the sheet over my head, so the mouse wouldn’t run across the pillow. Romantic anniversary…

The weather was perfect, sunny, warm but not hot, and very windy. We saw three black bears, a few deer, lots of chipmunks, birds, inchworms, butterflies, and of course, the mouse. But what got me really excited was the hourglass in the shower. Shower ChallengeThis 5-Minute Shower Challenge is *brilliant*! I’d love to talk to whomever came up with this, because for all the things that hotels do to reduce their footprint, it’s hard to talk to people about how much water they use when they shower. This is the perfect way to do it – give everyone a game that not only brings awareness to an important conservation issue, but challenges them to see how they can help, while cheering them on to doing better. The “towel talk” is one thing, and dependent on how well trained the hotel staff are – even if you carefully hang up your towel to reuse, sometimes they still get replaced. Water usage is a conservation issue that doesn’t currently get enough attention, so it’s nice to see this challenge.

Other sustainability issues that struck us while we were there include, of course, biking and dining. The roads are so narrow and twisty and windy, that cyclists who brave the roads (and we saw many) were cranking up hills with queues of cars behind them, then whipping down hills, still with cars behind them. It’s not my comfort level, and it’s a shame that there isn’t a way to add in proper bike lanes. We did see a walking lane in Skylands, although it came to an abrupt end in the middle of the road. Walking LaneThe biggest transportation drawback to me was that even once we arrived at our hotel, we still had to drive to get just about anywhere. We explored hiking trails that were near Skyland, but I’m sure there are better ones out there. We just didn’t feel like driving to them. And you still have to drive to the various visitors’ centers. It’s a shame they can’t run shuttles between at least the visitors’ centers, resorts, campsites, and major trail heads. Reducing the vehicle travel within the park would contribute greatly to the air quality, which is the topic of a few of the displays in the Big Meadows interpretive center. Of course, The Mechanic loved our rental Mercedes Benz, a surprise and free upgrade from Enterprise, so he wasn’t as upset about driving, but after a deer jumping across the road immediately in front of us, he was even more cautious while driving. See – fewer cars would equal more wildlife survival!Our Wheels

Another thing that was slightly disappointing was the menu at the Pollack Dining Room at Skyland. Not a lot of vegetarian options. I mean, at least there were some, but I feel that national parks should put more effort into discussing food and sustainability if they are going to offer meals, especially when conservation is pretty much what national parks are all about. Even locally raised meat uses way more water than do vegetarian options, including grains and pulses. Plus, it’s cheaper. I don’t expect an entirely vegetarian menu in national parks. I mean, you’d lose a ton of visitors! But at least offer some better/other options than portabella burgers or pasta. Our meals were tasty, nevertheless, and the blackberry ice cream pie was worth breaking my no-dessert rule!Blackberry Ice Cream PieOverall, our second anniversary weekend was a definite win, and mouse aside, couldn’t have been better. The sustainability puzzle keeps me thinking, about ways to make it easier and more fun, but there are no easy answers, and I am not assuming to offer any. But I really love that shower challenge! Do you know how long a 5-minute shower is? Butterfly Whisperer