Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Birthday Bike Trip In Frostburg

For my birthday D, E and I headed to Frostburg, MD, a town which Trish and I had whizzed right past last year on my Pittsburgh to DC bike trip.

We ate lunch at Shift, which had I eaten there on the trip would have definitely made my Top 5 list of places to eat along the trail! I tossed gluten-free caution to the wind and ordered the Mush-Reuben, because I absolutely love veggie reubens (tempeh or mushroom usually) and just find it too hard to pass it up. D had a veggie burger and E had the soup (veggie chowder) and salad, all of which were delicious. The name of the restaurant - Shift - is used here as in bicycle gears...we were at a bicycle cafe!! Originally I had thought as in work shift, like someone's shift is 9 to 3,then the next shift is 3 to 9, etc. I was pleasantly surprised by all the bicycle art and references in this farm to table cafe. (Modern Appalachian! Everything is about Appalachia lately!)

Then we headed to the GAP trail! I left the Trailbook in the car, which was a mistake, because this was a fairly steep uphill climb, and it would have been nice to know exactly how far we had to go!

Our first excitement was the Borden Tunnel, which is 957 feet long with no lights. But see how you can see the other end? How dark could it get? (Answer: VERY dark!) It is amazing how dark it is in the center of the tunnel - you can't see the ground or anything around you, just keep your eyes on the light ahead and hope for the best!!!

Next we reached the Mason-Dixon line, the line dividing the North (PA) from the South (MD). I thought there would be information about slavery, north and south, civil war, but there was not. Just today I learned in this article in the New Yorker that there is NO federal monument remembering our country's 250 years of slavery nor commemorating those slaves who lived their lives shackled. A runaway slave reaching the north DID NOT equal freedom. In fact there was a Constitutional law saying Northerners HAD TO return slaves to Southern slave owners: the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Freedom wasn't until they reached Canada, and many runaway slaves instead went south to Spanish Florida, Mexico or the Caribbean. Check the article out if you get a chance, "The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad; Hardly anyone used it, but it provides us with moral comfort—and white heroes," by Pulizer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz.

We were heading further uphill toward the Big Savage Tunnel (much longer but lit) and the Eastern Continental Divide, when the gray black clouds above began to rumble. We didn't realize how close we were to Big Savage Tunnel, and thought better of heading up to the top of a mountain during a thunder/lightening storm, so we turned around and headed back down: easy coasting all downhill. We waited out the rain in the Borden Tunnel, eating the two delicious gluten-free cookies we had brought from Shift, and then coasted back to Frostburg.

We ended the day browsing the mostly-closed town (it was around 7 pm). We did find an amazing bookstore open though, Main Street Books (no website, though they have a facebook page), definitely worth stopping in on a trip to Frostburg.

All in all a great day! I'm happy I got to see Frostburg, which was the one town I have regretted not stopping to see ever since the trip last October. Of course just being on the trail made me long for another trip!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Wildacres: Meet Murgatroyd. I Wasn't The Only Cabin Dweller In My Cabin

"Almost Heaven, Carolina, Blue Ridge Mountains, Here at Wildacres...." Ok, those aren't quite the words, and those weren't the words that ran through my head all week, but being in the Blue Ridge Mountains meant the original John Denver version wasn't far from my mind at all times.

Above is the sign which greeting me, I knew I was in for a special week.

I arrived early, my cabin wouldn't be ready for a few hours, so my mother (who was there with my dad who was there for a Plein Air painting class with Ringling College Art and Design) and I went to Little Switzerland. There I found ripe blackberries and wineberries, yum!

 At 3:30 Monday July 18, I mad my way to my cabin:

My gorgeous, new, wooden, wide open, wonderful cabin which would be all mine for one week! I was here on a writing residency, and they called me a Cabin Dweller. There were three of us. Yvonne's cabin, Laurel, was similar to mine, but Dan stayed in the Owl's Nest, the original cabin, which I'll show you below. But first, some views of my amazing cabin:

Now here is the Owl's Nest, the original cabin for writers in residency. Stone walls, unfinished wood beams and railings.

 Now back to my cabin, Azalea. I had a screen porch and an upstairs loft, which contained an extra single (trundle) bed so I took one of the mattresses and slept out on the porch the first night.

Then I saw this HUGE spider, who although I named Murgatroyd I never did befriend. (At one point she charged me aggressively! I have it on film! I guess she didn't want to be filmed.) So I never slept out there again, but I did still enjoy the porch, though somewhat reservedly.

 If you look carefully, you can see Murgatroyd's web in the corner above the chair on the right. Of course I never sat in that chair.

I was there working on the first draft of a memoir about my daughter Molly, who died in 2007, when she was 8 years old. Here's a picture I sketched of Molly during the week.

 And here is a picture of the actual, beautiful Molly:

 More posts about my week to come! But for now, I'll leave you with the view off the porch of one of the main buildings on the main campus:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bicycling in Franklin PA: Allegheny River Trail and Justus Trail

Today we tried two new bike trails: Allegheny River Trail and Justus Trail, both in Franklin, PA. In fact, we parked where the trails met; first we biked south on the ART, then back to the start, and north for a while on JT toward Oil City. Together the system makes up what will hopefully someday be a completed Pittsburgh to Erie bike trail.

We arrived in Franklin, PA in a complete downpour/thunderstorm, so we waited it out in the lovely Bossa Nova coffee shop, where we talked to a couple from north of Pittsburgh who have retired to Franklin and love it, and an ultramarathoner woman. Both gave us great advice about biking, hiking, camping and recreation in the area. At the coffee shop, I tried the London Fog (Earl Grey tea, steamed almond milk and vanilla syrup) and Dave had a cappuccino. The owner is Brazilian and the place specializes in Brazilian coffee, and she raved about the decaf, so I'll have to try that when we go back.

The trails were gloriously paved and ran next to the Allegheny River. There was camping alongside the trail (both tent spaces and Adirondack shelters) and plenty of wildlife!

This gorgeous pre-historic (these turtles are 200 million years old - check out her dinosaur-like spiked tail!) snapping turtle looked to be laying eggs next to the trail.

This painted turtle (? I'm not positive of her identification) also seemed to be laying eggs:

We also saw zillions of chipmunks darting in front of our bikes across the trail, a couple woodchucks, indigo buntings, and gray catbirds.

The plant life was just as spectacular. These purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus) were lining the trail in full bloom: were other species of raspberry...some due to be ripe in just a couple weeks!

St. John's wort,(Hypericum perforatum) a lovely medicinal herb, was also blooming along the trail:

Just a gorgeous day and a gorgeous place, I can't wait to go back for more exploring! For sure we need to try Oil Creek State Park, which was highly recommended!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Going to Rome!

(all the pictures in this post are from, and are public domain, "free for commercial use no attribution required.")

I'm heading to Rome!!!

I could not be more excited...tempered with a healthy dose of travel anxiety.

I've never been to Rome, and in the six days since I booked the vacation, I have been furiously trying to learn Italian, with the help of Duolingo, and the Mango Online Language program through our local (Carnegie) library system. Four days to go and Duolingo claims I'm about 30% fluent, so...we'll see. Maybe I can kick it up to above 50% (shooting for 75%!) before I leave. The "travel" section on duolingo is locked, and will be until I get through about 19 more sections! Luckily, Mango is conversational and starts right in with greetings (Ciao!), then questions on who you are, (Mi chiamo Melissa) where you are from (Sono americana), what languages you speak (Parlo inglese, parlo un po italiano,) how to get to the train station, airport, etc. I plan to put together a page of useful phrases to have on hand:

  • Do you have a room for three people? Hai una stanza per tre persone? (not sure if that's quite right...I just threw it together with the 30% Italian I know!)
  • Where is the bathroom: Dov'e il bagno?
  • I don't understand: Non capisco
  • Do you speak English: Parla inglese?

Also, I am trying to figure out some things about Rome before I go, and so far this is what I've got:

  • Only order cappuccino in the morning, never after 11 am.

  • If you order a "latte," you will get a glass of milk.
  • I should take a guided tour of the ancient ruins in the Roman Forum because nothing is labeled. 

  • According to my dad I'd be a huge idiot to visit Rome and not go to the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel (as I was considering doing), though he'd never come right out and say so.

  • There are beaches within an hour, by metro, of Rome. However, and again - according to my dad - I'd been an even bigger idiot than above for wasting my time in Rome at a BEACH, for God's sake. And if I skipped the Vatican/Sistine Chapel TO GO TO the beach, then don't even bother coming home.

  • Even though a cornetto looks like a croissant, it is not a croissant, and there are some key differences: croissants are more flaky and buttery, cornetto (I guess plural is cornetti?) are sweeter, cake-ier, and can in fact be made with lard (!) rather than butter. (I found this blog with an explanation of the difference.)

  • Throw a coin (or three?) backwards over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, to ensure a return trip to Rome.

In addition to reading guidebooks, blogs, and travel websites, we've also been getting ready by watching Roman Holiday and the episode of Layover where Anthony Bourdain is in Rome (both stream on Netflix.) 

Let's see if I'm able to communicate at all, and if any of the things I've "learned" are actually helpful and/or true on my trip!

Arrivederci, a presto!

~ Melissa

Friday, April 1, 2016

Wild Edibles: Earth Day Walks and Paw Paws on the Bike Trail

Welcome to any Food Under Footers who have found their way to my personal writing and illustration blog! Sadly my Food Under Foot website was somehow...attacked? Vandalized? I don't know the word for when someone hacks in and messes everything up, but unfortunately it's still not running smoothly. Seven years of blogging about wild edibles!! On the bright side, I can still access all the posts and pictures, even if the viewers cannot, so at least I have something to work with.

Two things for this welcoming post:


Please join me for my Earth Day walks at Frick Park again this year! The walks will be Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 1 pm and 3:30 pm. They are free as is the entire Earth Day celebration! Please arrive 1/2 hour early to sign up. Visit the Frick Park info page for more information.


A little anecdote about the bike trip I took with my friend Trish in October.

October is a wonderful time for wild edibles, and as we were biking through Paw Paw, WV, I had very high hopes for baskets full of paw paws! I was not disappointed!

The paw paws were ripe and everywhere. Though they were hard to see we could smell them as we were biking, and whenever the air became full of the sweet fruity smell, we knew to stop our bikes and look around. The trail was literally lined with paw paw trees, though not every tree had fruit. We had most of our luck coming out of this, the Paw Paw Tunnel, which was a long dark unlit tunnel with a crickety rickety wooden fence that would not keep you out of the canal if you were to smash into it (luckily I did not, and I had a head lamp, which was a necessity!)

As we rode up to the tunnel we passed two men who were off their bikes and staring at a Bladdernut tree.

photo from Wikipedia commons

"Watcha lookin at?" asked Trish, whose southern accent was never stronger than when we were riding through West Virginia.

"I think these are paw paws," said one of the men.

"Those aren't paw paws," I answered.

"Yes, I believe they are," he said, more assertively this time. "My friend told me there are paw paws trees along the trail, these must be the fruit." He indicated the brown bladders that hung from the tree.

"There are paw paw trees here, but they have broader leaves, and the fruit look like little green mangos. Look," I said, indicating a small tree with yellowing green leaves across the trail from where he and his friend stood. "This is a paw paw tree," I said.

The other man glanced cursorily at the direction I indicated, saw the small tree which bore no fruit, and dismissed me. The other didn't even bother to look away from the Bladdernut tree.

"No," he shook his head. "These MUST be them. Now I do you go about eating them?"

There was no point. And since bladdernuts are edible, he was not in danger.

That day we also found a beautiful lion's mane mushroom, and glorious giant puffball mushrooms.

Trish with the giant puffball mushrooms (we only took the smallest)

However, since I had sent back the salt with my husband when he visited me a few days earlier, the mushrooms weren't as tasty as they could have been, even marinated in Grand Marnier and roasted over the fire.

The paw paws however, were delicious.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Kooky Crazy Illustrations, Just For Fun

One night I was up at 3 am and I couldn't fall back to sleep, so I got to work on these:

And it continued into the next day:

The tree idea came from seeing this video on youtube, (which is a promo for a book):

And that led me to just drawing swirls and finding images in them. Some I drew with my eyes open, but the last two I drew with my eyes closed. I used Faber Castell PITT artist black pens and I colored mine in with crayons.

Fun 3 am doodling!

~ Melissa