Family

Family. A word with many different meanings. It could mean passion, heartbreak, love, or sorrow. It all depends on your personal meaning. For some it might mean parents and siblings, while other times it is the people who accept you as who you are, and anything in between. I myself, have found a few families, all ranging from blood relation, to friends, to people who help me embrace who I am.

These last few weeks I have been able to more of my blood related family than ever before. One night we got together to celebrate my aunt’s (once removed) 10th anniversary of her marriage. Before then, I had met her maybe once, but not the rest of her family. Most of the people there I did not know, but I was told they were family.

Because of the way that we live, my family is separated in all different countries. Me, my parents and Alex live in the U.S., while my mom’s sister lives in London. One of my mother’s cousins lives in Poland, while the other lives in Norway. One of my father’s uncles lives in Austria while the other lives in Poland. All of my grandparents live in Poland. Since I was young, that was my blood related family.

My parents have always had very close friends whom were always our “aunts/uncles” and “cousins”. Although these people are in no way actually related to us, I’ve always felt like they were family. With us all being so spread out around the world, it is hard to maintain contact, but as I think I have mentioned, we try to fly to Poland almost every other year. My parents grew up here, so it only makes sense.

At home, I have a group of friends that are like my family. Most are like my sisters. It’s not that we spend so much time together that we are practically living with each other, it’s that we all understand each other. We all feel like someone has our back if something happens, good or bad. We all have each others support, no matter what. It’s like my second family.

To everyone out there, your family is always different. I am very fortunate to have such a caring and supporting family in my life. But family is so much more. Family means you still love them, even after accidentally breaking your favorite mug. Family means you support them, even though you think them piling mattresses to make a makeshift trampoline is crazy.Family means you know they won’t be mad at you forever if you do go do that thing they  specifically told you not to do. And when you find those people, you will truly be happy. Because they will forever be your family.

London

Hello Everyone! My name is Nadia, and this is my first blog entry. I am 13 years old and I love to travel. Ever since our first sabbatical to Mexico, I have wanted to travel around the world. My goal, when I get older is to explore every continent and experience the different cultures on the planet.

As of now, we are in Poland. I have been flying here every other year since I was 3 years old, so it’s not a new sight. Last week we were in London, and it was beautiful. We haven’t traveled in a long time, so this felt like a breath of fresh air. The sights, the sounds, it was all breathtaking. Since we live in the middle of nowhere, the city was a whole other perspective. Everyone is always going somewhere, and it’s always busy. It’s way more interesting than the country.

In London we went to many museums (of course), and saw the Queen’s palace. Although we couldn’t go inside (obviously), the exterior was artfully designed, and beautifully made. We also visited Greenwich, which is the Prime meridian of the world. A Prime meridian is the line of Longitude that is 0°. This line forms a circle on the earth that divides it into 2 hemispheres, East and West. This line passes through Greenwich, England, France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, and Antarctica. There we saw Queen Henrietta Maria’s house, and explored the inside. Everything there was amazing. As we walked around, we got to see the King and Queen’s chambres. The ceilings specifically were amazing. The kings was royal blue with tastefully added gold trim, as the Queens was a mural depicting images from the bible (probably I’m an atheist so I don’t know). Later that day we went to Platform 9 ¾, as I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. Fun fact! I learned that the movies were actually filmed between platforms 3&4, not 9&10 as it is said in the story. It was a great experience, especially for me. We left London the next day.

Since we go to Poland almost every other year, there is no new sights to see. We mostly have just visited family. Throughout this adventure, I hope to learn more about the world, and see the beauty that lies within.

We’re on the Road Again

The morning started like any other day. While a bit hectic, it wasn’t any different from just about any other weekday. We woke up at dawn and started getting ready for the day ahead. Kids dragged out from beds, ate breakfast and left for school. On surface everything seemed normal. Except, we knew it wasn’t. It was a Thursday, and I wasn’t leaving for work…

I quit my job the day before. They said, I left my employer to pursue “personal interests”. I call it a Sabbatical – an extended, unpaid leave of absence. Last time I took one, we spent over a year on the road wandering North America. Now it’s time to show our kids Europe. Like most our trips, the plan is not precisely plotted. We will map our travels as we go. For now, all we know is that our first stop will be London, then a few weeks on the roads of western Europe. We plan to return home in early September with couple of stops on the way back, in Norway and Iceland.

While Nadia was taking her last exam, and Alex trading farewells with his pals, Agnieszka and I were packing and getting the house ready. The flight was supposed to leave Toronto late night, but we needed to get there early to park our car with our Polish friends living in Hamilton. Everything was going relatively smooth. In fact, when I realized that we would be able to leave on time, I became suspicious. That has never happened before! We were about to lock the doors behind us, when I got a text message from Primera Air. It was short, and very clear. And yet I read it three times, disbelief giving way to anger. Our flight was… cancelled!

The text was followed by an email, confirming that the flight was indeed not going to leave Toronto that night. That message also contained some options. One of them was to book a flight with another airline, and seek a refund afterwards. Considering Primera Air’s reputation it was risky decision. Finding four open seats on another flight that same night seemed like mission impossible. And yet, somehow we got lucky! I booked a flight with Air Transat, and a few hours later we boarded the plane, and the next morning disembarked at Gatwick International.

The red eye flight was tiring. Our kids don’t have European passports (yet), so upon arrival we ended up in a non-EU immigration line. That morning several transatlantic flights arrived in London, making the lines crowded and long. Two hours later we caught a train to the city and arrived at the hotel early afternoon. Imagine my irritation when we learned that Priceline sold us a room with two single beds. Calling their customer support was a waste of time, they offered no solution, and no apology. “Josh”, their representative, speaking with heavy Indian accent from an undisclosed location, stated that this is my problem and I should talk to the hotel manager directly. I thanked him for this useless suggestion. Fortunately Chris, the Docklands Lodge hotel manager was able to rectify Priceline’s screw-up and gave us two adjacent, connected rooms.

We spent the next few days exploring London and taking pictures to document our discoveries.

On Tuesday night we boarded yet another cheap ($123.81 for four seats) and Europe’s most (in)famous airline, Ryanair. Despite horror stories about their services, we have no reasons to complain. Even though our departure was slightly delayed, the flight was uneventful and we arrived in Katowice (Poland) on time. I would even say that the flight comfort was very much comparable, if not higher than most american airlines.

Today, we are at my father’s house getting ready for the next chapter of our journey. I sincerely hope to not be the sole scribe of those travel records, and that Nadia, and Alex will use this journal to share their impressions of Europe with their friends back home.

Easy slow rising bread recipe

My family loves bread. We eat probably almost 2 loafs a week. One of those loafs is ezekiel brand, grain sprouted and flourless. It is just better for you then any other type of bread.

The other I used to get at the public market every Saturday from my favorite French bakery. I used the past tense because I got tired of hunting for it and even at $6 a loaf it was already gone by the time I got there.

I was always petrified of making bread. Let me refraze that- I am petrified of baking in general. It was never my thing. You have to watch the temperature, obide by the recipe, measure the exact amounts etc…..things that I usually don’t do in the kitchen.

Every time my mother visited she baked this awesome bread but it was soooooo much work that I never wanted to make it myself. Too much work involved.

This recipe is easy. If you count the active time it is probably less then 10 minutes. It is slow rising dough so it needs at least 12 hours to rise. I usually make it in the evening so that it can raise during the night and I bake it the following morning.

The ingredients for one loaf are:

  • 5 cups of flour
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of yeast
  • 3 or 4 cups of water
  • oval baking dish with a lid

It has to be sticky, so it really depends on the flour that you are using. I use a combo of unbleached white and wheat (3 cups of white/ 2 cups whole wheat).

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. I leave it overnight on the kitchen counter next to my stove because it seems to be worm and less drafty.

The next day the dough has probably doubled in size. It is time to bake. Dump the dough out on a clean, floured counter. Kneed few times and cover with a towel again. In an hour or so start preheating the oven on 425 with the baking dish inside.

When it beeps dump the ball into the dish and bake for 40 min, the last 10 without the lid. When you take it out of the oven you will have to resist the temptation to eat it right away. It smells amazing. You need to let it cool before you cut into it.

I have made some variations like sprinkling with sunflower seeds or folding in some raisins….it comes out great every time. Play with it, make it your own.

When you make it few times the process becomes a habbit. And the best thing is that the cost is not even 90 c a loaf. Can’t beat that!

Christmas wreath

I am not a freak when it comes to seasonal decorations. I like few simple things that convey the mood and let my creative spirit out. The tree is usually the key piece anyways so the rest has to be toned down.

This year I decided to make a wreath to hang on the door. I love using nature so I used pinecones and vines. I did not even have to go to the woods to get the stuff since the pinecones I found at the College in Geneseo and vines are from my backyard.

I had some spray paint in red and white leftover from other projects. Perfect Christmas colors, I thought, not to mention Polish flag!

I spray painted few pinecones red and some white and let it dry well. I weaved the vines into a circle and glued the pinecones arranged by my son using a hot glue gun. I tied a red ribbon to finnish off the look. What do you think?

 

 

The End of the Road

In June, I wrote about Portland and naked people riding their bikes to work. That was a bit awkward… I’m used to naked people, even on bikes, but work…? Come on! We were on a Sabbatical! Who needs work!

Well, apparently we do. Our travel budget, the Sabbatical fund I wrote about last December, started to dry out quickly. Now, I’m back to work and the daily routine. I’m not dreading it like I used to. Even if it’s really not as fun as visiting National Parks and sleeping with the bison, the job provides for our daily needs and… builds the next Sabbatical fund. But before we go to far out into the future, let me finish this one first.

While in Portland, we actually stayed in a neighboring Vancouver, which is just across the river in the state of Washington. We lived for a few days with a Polish couple (“friends of our friends”) and also with people we’ve met in Bend, OR. During that time we had a chance not only to visit Portland, but also to take a tour of Columbia River attractions. What we didn’t do, is to say good bye to the Ocean. Realizing that the weather in the valley between the Coastal Range and the Cascades is rather unpredictable, we decided to skip Seattle and the other Vancouver and start heading East, towards home.

Our first stop was just mere few hours from Portland, where our new friends took us to teach us wind surfing. After all, we were in The Dalles, near Hood River, the World’s capital of windsurfing! We all tried the sport with… various degrees of success. I have to admit, Nadia was probably the best student and was able to surf within minutes. Alex wasn’t far behind, so was Agnieszka. I, on the other hand, am rather slow learner and my body’s flexibility resembles that of a log. Most my attempts to stand up straight ended up in uncontrolled falls. The sailing is relatively easy, standing on a small board in the middle of a mighty river is the difficult part…

After passing Mount Hood, we entered the high desert again and the weather improved significantly. Following the Oregon Trail, with a short stop near Ontario, small town on the border with Idaho, we reached Boise. We lived there for a few days with yet another friends from Poland and during that stay finally had a chance to see what the Famous Potatoes state is all about. We were not disappointed – Idaho, maybe not as famous as Utah or Colorado, can easily contend with them for the title of Americas capital of outdoors. Sitting on the Snake River Plains, with the breathtaking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Boise is one terrific town to live!

We spent a few days in Idaho Falls. It’s a small little town near Wyoming state border. Our next stop was suppose to be Yellowstone National Park, and we needed to refill our food supplies and gear. As we’ve learned before, anything and everything in the parks is twice as expensive.

To get from Idaho to Yellowstone National Park, we had to go through Montana. The park is located primarily in the North-West corner of Wyoming and there are four entrances leading in, two of them are in the state of Big Sky. The park, widely known for it’s natural beauty and abundant wildlife is enormous in size. It spans an area of almost 3,500 square miles (9,000 km2), comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. We lived there for almost a week, covered over 300 miles, almost never crossing the same path twice and still left the park with a feeling of deficiency. We could easily spend another month in the park and still be awed by it’s beauty.

Our base camp was at the shores of Yellowstone Lake, which is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America. It is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest active volcano on the continent. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years. Fortunately we have been spared the spectacle… but one can tell that something’s going on under our feet. The entire park is full of geothermal features, Old Faithful being probably the most renown, but definitely not the only one. Apparently half of the world’s geothermal features are in Yellowstone! Everywhere we went, we stumbled upon geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.

We’ve learned that Yellowstone is the the largest remaining ecosystem in the Earth’s northern hemisphere. It is the largest remaining continuous stretch of mostly undeveloped pristine land in the continental United States. With the successful wolf reintroduction program, which began in the 1990s, virtually all the original faunal species known to inhabit the region when white explorers first entered the area can still be found there. Most tourists visiting the park create traffic jams taking pictures of bison, elk and deer from the comfort of their car seats. Some embark on the journey on the many hiking trails available, and are rewarded with close up encounters with the fauna in the unspoiled surroundings. We happened to setup our tent next to a bison’s favorite scratching tree. Falling asleep 20 feet away from the buffalo, we listened to snores of that 2,000 pounds piles of beef, telling ourselves that those animals are nothing more than just furry, oversized cows…

The next stop on our journey was just a mere couple of hours away. South of Yellowstone, almost adjacent to the park, lies another marvel of American tourist industry – the Grand Teton National Park. The park takes it’s name from the massive mountain range shooting up from the plains. It’s biggest peak, also bearing the same name is 13,770 ft (4,197 m) tall and overlooks a beautiful valley down below, where we stayed for a few days. We spent our time discovering park’s rich history and geography, hiking, playing in the many lakes, boating and just relaxing. In our records, Grand Teton is one of the places why we embarked on this journey in the first place.

We have left Grand Teton on the eve of Independence Day. We started late afternoon and decided that this will be our first teleportation experience. The kids felt asleep in their comfy seats around 9.30 PM, Agnieszka followed within minutes. When they woke up in the early morning, the car was park in front of… Bryce Canyon National Park waiting for the gate to open. As promised before, we were back in Utah! Overnight, the tall peaks of the Rocky Mountain ranges gave way to hoodoos and the moon-like landscapes of the canyons. Juicy greens of the fertile northern ecosystems turned brown. The air was filled with dirt that hasn’t seen rain in months.

Few nights in the park gave us an opportunity to discover not only the marvelous views from the top of the canyon, but also to explore below the it’s edge. On our treks we stumbled across many weird and mysterious looking rock formations, many of them resembling in shape faces, people or animals. Very spiritual place indeed…

We continued our passage through southern Utah in the daylight. From Bryce we took course for the Arches on the state’s back roads. On the way there, we stopped for a short visit in Capitol Reef National Park. We didn’t plan a longer stay, just enough time to collect the Junior Ranger badges… After all, who wants to stare at yet another Lime or Navajo Sandstone formations, right?

The next few days we spent at an RV park in Moab, Utah. This small town is surrounded by the most unusual rock formations making this part of the continent an ideal set for low budget sci-fi movies. What’s more interesting though, is the fact that both, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are just a stone throw away from the town center.

We left Moab in the afternoon and once again, applying our newly acquired teleportation technique, the crew woke up on the shore of a little mountain lake  in… Granby, Colorado. It was time for breakfast.

The southern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park is just a few miles north from town. The steep road quickly climbs  from the bottom of the valley, all the way up to the 14,000 feet (3,700 m) tall peaks above it. We have spend the entire day driving through the mountains, inhaling high altitude air and admiring the breathtaking views… or as much as we could see through the thick of clouds.

Once on the other side of the Rockies, we headed back North. We ended our little detour and got back on the all familiar I-90 in South Dakota. While there, we decided to visit Wind Cave National Park,  Mount Rushmore and Badlands. In fact, the Black Hills are full of tourist attractions and if we were to see them all, we would need an entire month… and much deeper pockets, too. A little tired with all the fancy sites, we decided to skip the Crazy Horse Memorial (the largest sculpture in the world),  Jewel Cave National MonumentHarney Peak (the highest point east of the Rockies), Mammoth Site in Hot Springs (the world’s largest mammoth research facility), historic Deadwood and even the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (that’s because I sold the bike and the rally wasn’t until August anyway).

Out of the Badlands and onto the I-90, we spent the next couple of days observing endless fields of corn. Once on the other side of the Great Plains, we visited our good friends, who live in small town on the west outskirts of the greater Chicago metropolitan area. We haven’t seen each other in several years and the acquaintance goes back to our teenage years. No wonder we needed over a week to catch up.

We left Chicago and headed almost straight home. One stop in Sandusky, and we felt like home again. This little town sitting in the middle of the Rust Belt resembles many of the towns we got used to see in upstate New York.

At the end of July, after 14 months of wanderings, we got back to New York. The tenants were getting ready to leave, but not quite out the door yet. We stayed a few days in Stony Brook State Park, just minutes from our house. Since there were high winds going over the area, one night we even got to visit our neighbor…

To finish the journey, we met with friends, who year earlier came for a farewell party in Buckaloons, this time we welcomed them in Watkins Glen. After traveling throughout most parts of the continent, we came to a conclusion, that there isn’t a region in the US more beautiful than upstate New York, and particularly the Finger Lakes are the most spectacular of all.

Aren’t we lucky to live in the heart of it…!?! The End.

Portlandia, where people ride naked

We visited Portland for just one afternoon, but like with the visit to Yosemite, we were lucky enough to see just the exact things that make this place World famous…

We stayed with  Małgosia’s old friends, who live in Vancouver, WA. Warned that the city tend to be crowded and parking lots expensive, we left the car at the Columbia river banks and took a train downtown. Nadia and Alex loved that ride!

After a quick lunch in Chinatown, we stumbled upon a Saturday market area, which spreads along the river. Even though we’ve expected fruits and vegetables, we only found lots of tourists, arts and crafts vendors, homeless people taking baths in the fountains, gay couples, transvestites, naked people riding bicycles, fathers with their babies petitioning to legalize cannabis, etc… The usual stuff you come to expect to see on this side of the Rockies.

Later, while staying with another friends, we’ve learned about Portlandia, a TV series portraying this interesting city in just so slightly distorted mirror.

All in all, we liked the city full of gay people and transvestites dancing in the streets and homeless people giving free hugs, smiles and kisses…

Memorial Day Weekend

I wrote my last report sitting at a Starbucks in Fresno. I was sipping coffee, watching people and waited for the car repair bill. What I didn’t cover was the reason why I got 20 minutes late to the service garage. At the time we were staying at the Millerton Lake near Fresno and I had an appointment at the service garage at 7.30 in the morning. Since it’s a 30 minutes drive, I left 10 to 7.00 AM, just in case… Good thing I did!

If I left only 2 minutes earlier, I would have definietly make it on time to the mechanic, but I would miss quite a spectacle. Obviously from time to time, every one of us meets a cow or two in the middle of the road. But what about 300 cows led by and  followed by 5 cowboys and their smart collie…? The cattle were being driven from one pasture to the next, few miles dwon the road. A truly wild west experience…

From Fresno, we headed back to the cold Sierra, this time to visit Yosemite. As Agnieszka already reported, we didn’t stay there long, mainly because of the crowds of people, in their large SUV’s and enormous RV’s, with their expensive cameras, filling up the valley all week long. We managed to find one camping spot, 25 miles north from the most scenic rocks and waterfalls, far from other people. Yes, we were lucky to spot a bear and a mountain lion, both within 6 minutes, half mile from one another,  but we failed to find another camping spot for the upcoming weekend. Gosh, I hate weekends!

We spent the next two days in Turlock Lake, a small park near Modesto. As all California state parks, this one was a no frills, expensive ($30/night) and in dire need of upgrades. Unlike others, this one was also infested by blood thirsty mosquitos, beer thirsty rednecks and fiestive Mexicans. We managed to survive the dreaded weeekend and Sunday afternoon moved to another park near Valley Springs. This one is being administer by the US Army Corps of Engineers and despite surface similarities is indeed much different. At only $16 per night it’s not only significantly less expensive, but also has clean, modern facilities and overall seems to be much better managed. Although Valley Springs is just a small town and offers no tourist attractions, we welcomed the change and decided to stay for the whole week. That gave us an opportunity to catch up on the homeschooling program, visit local libraries and just hang out on the lake. On Friday, when the “weekenders” started to arrive, we packed our van, left the quitet refuge and headed for the city…

Sacramento, California’s capital is not as big as some of the better known cities on the west coast. It retains it’s small town atmosphere, while providing all the services and attaractions of a much larger metropoly. We stayed there for almost a week. On the weekend, we visited our old friends, who moved here from Hornell 6 years ago. They live in downtown, which gave us a chance to see the heart of the city first hand. We went to a concert, to a zoo and to museum of rail transportation, enjoyed a pacific rim fair and walked the streets of a western-like historic district. Of course we also spent countless hours talking about the “good old times” while drying out a few bottles of wine. On Sunday, we moved to the outskirts and stayed with a wonderful couple we met few weeks earlier at Zion and in the Death Valley. Patti and Del not only hosted us for four days, sharing their travel and family stories, but also took us cayaking and showed us Folsom and Orangevale on the bikes. Nadia and Alex loved the pool, we couldn’t get enough of Del’s barbecued ribs. But on Thursday it was time move on…

Last weekend was Memorial Day, which means… we’re screwed. Instead of San Francisco, we landed in Sonoma valley on a campground far from the bay area. But it turned out to be great. We have spent four days hiking, visiting local library and… wine tasting. After all this is the Sonoma Valley!

Visit at Yosemite

After freezing experience at Sequoya and Kings Canyon National Park we chased the hot weather to Millerton Lake State Park near Fresno, CA. It did not disappoint, it was very nice. Warm enough to sleep in t-shirts and shorts again:-) After doing pretty much nothing for few days, we headed to Yosemite National Park.

We have seen so many beautiful movies filmed in this gorgeous park… It is very extensive, full of breathtaking waterfalls, granite mountains, pristine forests and wildlife.

Prepared to freeze our butts off again we decided to compromise and stay for one night and later decide if we want to stay longer. We entered the park, but it was still a long drive before we got to any kind of camp ground or visitor’s center. Long, winding road in front of us made me very sick immediately. I have a terrible motion sickness disease, so as much as I love the mountains driving there is not my favorite activity.

We get to the Valley and it is as busy as Time Square on a week day. The traffic is annoying, parking lots are full and hungry crowds with professional cameras shooting every squirrel, every bird, every inch of the park.

We went to the reservation office just in time to find out that all the campgrounds in the Valley were full and have a mile long waiting list. The only option left for us was a spot for one night on a campground located on the west side of the park, 45 min drive from all the action. What could we do , we took it. Whoo hoo, more driving… 🙁

On our way there we found ourselves accepting the fact that our visit was going to be very short. Robert, who’s high hopes for some serious hiking vanished immediately had the hardest time accepting.

The regrets were still showing on our faces while setting up the camp. The toughest part was that the decision was not made by us but the thousands of people from all over the world who decided to show up at the same time and spoil our idyllic sabbatical. What happened to the economical crisis in Europe?! The park is full of people from France and Germany…

After all was in place, we decided to head to Hatch Hatchy, a nearby reservoir – much less visited location in Yosemite. While driving, it was obvious that it is not so popular amongst tourists, the road was ours – no cars around. Moving forward, while the sun was slowly going down, I look to the side of the road to find a… BEAR trying to cross to the other side. Yes, a BEAR!!! We have never seen a bear out in the wild before. Our van is coming to life. Everyone is screaming with excitement looking at the beautiful animal moving slowly to the other side. I could not believe it! We even managed to take some photos since the camera, thanks to Robert is always ready and in the same spot:-) That was it, it changed our mood completely, thankful for what we just experienced.

Taking another curve, still discussing the bear we were surprised AGAIN, because crossing the road the other way around was a… MOUNTAIN LION!! This unbelievably gorgeous animal, very secretive in fact, decided to make an appearance right in front of us. It was completely unexpected, even for the lion since he tripped on the side of the road, very unusual for this graciously moving cat. He quickly went up seeking space, but then he stopped, turned and posed for us from a safe distance. I almost had to climb the car’s roof to take that photo, but it was surely worth all the acrobatics. I could have left Yosemite then, with no regrets. Looking in the eyes of those animals, seeing them in their natural habitat was one of a kind, unusual experience.

The next day we managed to go for a short, crowded hike and we also did some sightseeing but to me, the encounter with those rare animals will always be the best experience of Yosemite:-)