Gentle readers, your correspondent has been sick with a stomach bug since last Thursday. Everybody in the house except for Nick, in fact, has been sick sometime in the last four days, and a couple of us are still not back to 100%. Posting will be light this week while we recover.
It hasn’t snowed much in Philadelphia this winter. It hasn’t been cold enough – we have had one of the warmest winters in recent memory, and in fact we got more snow before Halloween than we have had since then. I took a quick snap out the window at work the other day when we had a little burst of snow fall in the afternoon:
I should say here that the views out the window at work are just beautiful. Our offices look out on a small open field and a stand of trees beyond. I have a cubicle near the end of a row, and on the very end of the row is a floor-to-ceiling window that frames this beautiful view. It’s quiet and very pretty.
A couple Saturdays ago, we celebrated Anna’s First Penance at church. This is when Catholic kids celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time, also known as penance or confession. It’s equally important as First Communion, but for obvious reasons it’s also much more intimidating for the kids.
Fortunately, our church does a great job putting the kids at ease and making the whole event as low-stress as possible. The kids stood up front together and play-acted the story of the Prodigal Son:
Fun fact – the little girl standing next to Anna was baptized on the same day, in the same service, as Anna. And it turns out that their older sisters went through First Communion together three years ago.
Then it was time for confessions. The priest sat up to the side of the altar, in a place where everyone could see but not hear what was happening. I think that helped the kids understand that they weren’t going to experience anything weird. (There’s so much mystery in the minds of little people!)
Anna and her girlfriend held out until the end. Anna was dead last.
We had cookies and hot chocolate afterward – a lovely treat for the kids.
Anna’s third grade class has been studying China all year, which is fortuitous in several ways. First, of course, her grandfather made his Peace and Harmony Tour of China at the beginning of the year. Second, we have a group of Chinese students who have started attending AFS this year, and we are playing host for one of them. So Anna is on the fast track to understanding China, and she has the wardrobe to match.
Her class held a Lunar New Year celebration a couple Fridays ago. They performed a shadow puppet theater, sang and performed a song about the new year, and told stories about the animals of the Chinese calendar. Here she is, in a blazing red dress brought home by Grandpa, after the shadow puppet performance:
Her animal was the Dragon, which is fitting, since both her parents were born in the year of the Dragon.
Gung hay fat choy! (That’s “happy new year” in Mandarin.)
Nick decided to do winter track this year as a way of keeping in shape for soccer. Winter track means running indoors – and not on a treadmill! Chelsea, Anna, and I all made it out to Nick’s last meet of the season. The blur in this photo finishing in second place is Nick:
Here he is afterward, waiting for the heat to be certified.
He ran the mile in this heat, which meant a ton of going around in circles, since the track was only 160 meters long. He did ten laps, but it seemed like a hundred. Nick said that because the track was so short and square that he felt like he spent the entire race turning left.
The boy was running pretty fast for his first season – his time in this last meet was 5:25, more than a full minute faster than his first race of the season. Anna and I had pretty much the same reaction to his finishing time:
He truly seems to love running, and he’s in great shape right now.
Monday morning came around soon enough, and it was time to head for home. We got a couple more shots of Seneca Rocks just as the fog was burning out of the valleys.
I want to tell you about the lady who used to own Seneca Rocks before it was bought by the Forest Service in the 1960s. We met her before we went out hiking on Sunday; she served us lunch. Her name is Miss Shirley Yokum, and she is 92 years old. Her father ran a general store that is still open for business on the highway right in front of the rocks. When her father passed, Miss Shirley and her siblings intended to sell the store. But there were no buyers, so she kept it running, and gradually built up a little empire – motel, restaurant, cabins, horse stables – all around.
We were quite taken with Miss Shirley, as you can imagine. She spent 10 years driving an ambulance for the hospital up the road as an EMT. She and her husband built their house with logs they kiln-dried in a makeshift building. On the way out of her restaurant – we were the only patrons for most of the time – we noticed that she subscribes to the Wall Street Journal. Remarkable.
One of my favorite things about traveling is that we get to meet people who might be in different circumstances, but are all interested in the same things – getting by, getting along, doing right by their families. I am always impressed, too, at how worldly people have become everywhere. Miss Shirley was just back from recent trips to Italy and the Bahamas. The shopkeeper who recommended Audra State Park to us had traveled extensively in Germany and had a fantastic German accent for an American. It’s a small world indeed.
Happy Presidents’ Day weekend, everyone!
All right, enough with the weird food already. Let’s get back to hiking.
This is Seneca Rocks, a rock formation and local landmark in ‘intermountain’ West Virginia. We climbed up to the top, although unfortunately you can’t get to the very top of the formation. The hiking trail we followed takes you to an observation platform which is better suited for looking out on the surrounding valleys than at the rock formation itself. Nevertheless, we got a nice climb out of the deal.
See that tiny little speck on the left side of this picture? That’s my car.
The hiking trail climbed 1,000 feet (330 m) over 1.5 miles (2.4 km) – a nice bit of vertical gain.
We had the place to ourselves, and for once we had nowhere else we had to go. That gave me some time to play around with my camera.
We headed back to our cabin that evening for some pizza and the Super Bowl – a nice, quiet, low-key evening.
I always like to try the local specialty when we visit a new place. In Elkins, West Virginia, that turned out to be Alfredo Pie. What is that, you ask? Maybe this picture will help explain… then again, maybe not:
Alfredo Pie is pasta in alfredo sauce, pressed into the shape of a brick, and flash fried. Yep, fried pasta. The menu was pretty clear on this point, but I had a hard time envisioning such a thing. So I ordered it.
The pictures don’t convey how enormous this thing was – probably enough pasta to feed three people. And of course, since it was breaded and fried, this thing was heavy as the day is long. I ate about a quarter of it, and the waiter seemed offended when I not only sent it away, but also didn’t ask for it to be wrapped up.
How did it taste, you ask? Like a giant mozzarella stick. The alfredo sauce was completely overwhelmed by the breading. They even served a side bowl of marinara for dipping. Crazy.
In the parking lot at Audra there was a mysterious metal structure off in a corner. Naturally, I had to investigate:
We soon realized it was a kind of hand-powered cable car that travels from one bank of the creek to the other:
Sadly, it was locked down for the winter. We would have liked to give it a try!