Find Your Americana

So many of the great writers penned some amazing  works detailing their travels. It seems there’s something about meandering about here and there that has a direct effect on someone’s writing. While I’m not sure if my travels have given me the inspiration to write the next great American novel, they have at least inspired a blog post.

Whenever I get ready to plan a long trip, people always encourage me to take the toll roads because they make the ride quicker and easier. While this may be true, I much prefer the ore scenic drive  you find taking the alternative route. There’s something about seeing the places of America pass by under the backdrop of their natural surroundings that stirs feelings of something I can’t describe better than feeling Americana.

267854_10150312292879180_7904414_nI love driving through small towns and imagining a story for the town according to what I can see from the car. I’ve crafted many a good story on my drives so maybe there will be a book in me yet. Until then what I can tell you is it’s a freeing experience to explore these random places along the drive. Perhaps, the best part is when you see people outside and they catch a view of your plates to see their reactions about how far you might have come to be there.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on a specific moment from my recent trip of when I pulled over at a rest stop to take a break. It was nearing sunset and I’m not sure there are many sunsets that can rival the ones you can see over the hills in Pennsylvania. It can almost give you an understanding of why William Penn chose the area to create his ideal colony. In that moment though as much as I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help but think about the person I would have loved to have with me at that moment. Some of you who actually read the stuff I write may have read a previous post I wrote about this fantastic woman in my life so you might have an idea of what I’m rambling about. But it felt like the perfect moment to share with her, especially since she has a knack for saying things at just the right time and it figured to be one of those perfect moments.

There is no doubt there are some compelling reasons to take the time to travel by yourself as many of those great American writers I mentioned earlier I’m sure wrote about. But to be honest, what’s in a moment if you have only yourself to share it with. I think it’s safe to say there are perfect trips for both occasions and what better reason do we need to travel!

What I can say for certain is on your next trip take some time to find your Americana on the road. Perhaps it’s in a small sea-side town that hearkens to a Thomas Kinkade painting or maybe it’s a town that appears like it hasn’t changed since the 1950s. Whatever your identity of Americana may feel like, I encourage you to take the more scenic route to your destination in hopes maybe you find yours.

 

DIY Grow Your Own Sequoia Tree

I want to open with two thoughts: First, I’d like to think that having a green thumb is a skill you can learn and second, even though sequoia trees are only found on America’s west coast I’d like to think they can grow anywhere (within geographical reason).

With these two thoughts, I want to introduce the point of this post: to help you grow your own sequoia tree! It’s really simple I promise and as long as you don’t live in an incredibly different geographically climate than America’s west coast, growing a redwood tree is a definite possibility.

STEP 1 GATHER YOUR MATERIALS

sequoia tree kit

Items needed to grow a sequoia tree

To start with you’ll need sequoia seeds, dirt, and a pot so it’s a pretty simple endeavor! There are three different kinds of redwood trees though so you have options as to what kind of giant redwood you want to grow.

Sequoiadendron giganteum – also known as the giant redwood, is the largest of the redwood trees

Sequoia sempervirens – also known as the coastal redwood, is the tallest tree in the world

Metasequoia glyptostroboides – also known as the dawn redwood, the fastest growing of the redwoods

Once you have decided which kind of redwood tree you’d like to grow you just need to acquire the seeds. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where they grow wild, great! If not there are many tree farms you can order a packet of seeds from and in my experience they come with a great success of sprouting.

STEP 2  PREPARE FOR PLANTING

The seed package will generally come with instructions for preparing the seeds for planting. The redwood tree seed needs to first be soaked in water for 24 hours and then refrigerated for a month before being planted. These steps essentially prepare the seed for the elements it would experience in nature to stimulate it’s growing ability once it was planted.

In addition, keep in mind any extra seeds you may not plant should be kept in their packet and refrigerate for long-term storage.

STEP 3 PLANT THE SEED

Once you have done all the preparation steps for the seed, you should plant the seed about an 1/8th inch into the dirt. It’s important to consistently water the seed and keep it in a warm environment until it sprouts.

You can opt to create a greenhouse for the plant while waiting for it to sprout, which may lead to a quicker germination, or just keep it in a warm location. Either way, the average germination time for a sequoia seed is 21 days. It’s important to note you don’t need sunlight to sprout the seed, it just needs to be consistently warm.

STEP 4 CARE FOR YOUR SEEDLING

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A sequoia seedling

After the seed is sprouted you can feel proud because getting a sequoia seedling is the toughest part of growing a redwood! It may take several different seeds to be planted before you get a seedling, and because the germination time is so long I’d recommend planting several pots so you don’t have to wait another three weeks if your first attempt doesn’t sprout. It’ll be an awe-inspiring experience when you see the little sequoia seedlings and imagine that it can eventually turn into one of the world’s largest trees.

Once it is sprouted, keeping the seedling watered and with access to plenty of sunlight is very important for its continued growth. Since sequoia trees are native to a temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest that doesn’t get too warm or too cold, you must be careful about where to place your seedling. You can opt to keep it in a greenhouse as it grows to a larger sapling or you could put it outside to gain maximum sunlight and exposure to temperature fluctuations that could help it feel like it’s in its native climate (though if you live in an area with significant cold/warm temperatures it is important to keep your seedling indoors through these temperature extremes), and you can also keep it inside within view of a window with good sunlight exposure.

Sequoia trees are slow growers so whatever method you intend to employ it will be a long-term commitment until the seedling turns into a sapling. I have used both the indoor and outdoor and they have both worked equally.

STEP 5 KEEP UP WITH YOUR TREE

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A sequoia seedling at 6 months

As your sequoia tree continues to grow bigger make sure you’re keeping it watered, giving it access to sunlight, and house it in a large enough pot for it to grow. It’s a fun experience to watch the seedling grow over the months.

I’d encourage you to take a picture every month of the seedling to track its growth. You’ll be amazed to see how it grows over time! Depending on how fast your tree grows and the size of the pot you started your seedling in you’ll want to replant it into a larger pot once you see it starting to outgrow its current pot. A good indicator is if the branches of the tree spread out past the width of the pot.

Make sure that when you do transplant your tree you break up the roots slightly. This way the roots are stimulated to grow and reach out into the new soil. It’s also important to fertilize and water in the tree as well following the move.

sequoia about two years

Sequoia tree at two years old

Since redwood trees are the world’s tallest tree it would make sense at some point that you want to get it into the ground so it has the opportunity to grow to its potential. As a rule of thumb, you want to wait til the tree becomes a sapling at about two years old before it can handle being outside year-round in most climates.

Growing trees, in general, is a pretty great experience and not only is it enjoyable for you and your family to watch it grow, but it’s beneficial for nature too so it really makes sense to give it a try!

Oreos: America’s Cookie

It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another: to dunk or not to dunk our Oreos. But perhaps, the better question is how did they become America’s cookie? Let’s be honest those Keebler elves make their cookies look pretty delicious. But Oreos with a glass of milk have become the instant image that comes to mind when I think of milk and cookies.

Oreos were introduced by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) to the American public on March 6, 1912, in New York City. They were part of a planned release of three high-end varieties of biscuit. The oreo cookie contained two firm chocolate cookies with rich vanilla frosting inside.

The idea of them as a biscuit does explain the fancy design Oreos have. Although, there is something about calling them a biscuit that makes them sound less delicious somehow, but clearly the American public didn’t think so. Quickly, Oreos became popular among Americans and the other two biscuit varieties disappeared. Leaving them to become America’s favorite cookie. (Or I guess biscuit at this juncture)

However, Oreos weren’t the first introduction of this kind of cookie. Hydrox Cookies made by Sunshine debuted in 1908. The Hydrox cookie was made using firmer cookies with a tangy flavor and less sweet filling so they didn’t get soggy when dipped (A point that makes sense when considered they were designed as a type of biscuit). Though their flavor didn’t seem to appeal to the public and because of this, they became second to Oreos and considered a knockoff, even though they were the original creator of the idea.

Originally called Oreo Biscuits, the name became Oreo Sandwich in 1921 and finally Oreo Creme Sandwich in 1948. It is unclear where the name came from. Some say it was a combination of the letters of chocolate and cream, others say from the French word for gold since the original packaging was gold colored, and still others argue from the Greek word for mountains since the prototype was a hill-shaped cookie. Of course, some just say it was an easy name to say.

Whatever the inspiration for the name was, it clearly worked as coupled with the simple product it has for over 100 years cemented itself as America’s cookie and caught on in many other countries across the world.

In the 1920s, they experimented and created a lemon-flavored cookie, but the traditional style was favored. That experiment started a tradition that carried on with Oreo cookies to this day where we have had so many unique varieties. Double-stuff debuted in 1975, in 1987 fudge-covered Oreos, in 1991 and 1995 we were introduced to holiday themed Oreos with Halloween and Christmas themes respectively.

Today we have so many kinds of Oreos it’s fantastic. Some of these themes are limited-time offers and others have become fan favorites and have stuck around. (Peanut Butter Oreos are my personal favorite) Regardless, Oreos have shown a penchant for unique flavors, which perhaps is what made them an American favorite. It is important to note, through all these unique varieties the traditional design of Oreos has remained since 1952, except for the special holiday themed cookies.

Oreos are so important to American culture now that Ninth Avenue where the original factory resided in New York City is now called Oreo Way. And just as a  fun fact, there is research that posits the way you eat your Oreos can be a predictor of your personality. If you dunk your cookies, you tend to be more adventurous and social, meanwhile, twisters tend to be more creative.

So what’s your favorite way to eat Oreos?

Oreo cookies

I can’t eat Oreos without a glass of milk.

On a sidenote: I’d love to do more posts like this looking into questions perhaps we’ve always wondered about. Awhile back I started a themed post Questions & Answers Edition and I want to bring it back but this is where I need your help. Please take a moment to comment on this post with any ideas of something you may want covered and I hope I can answer it!

 

 

The House that Rubber Built

Stan_HywetI recently had the opportunity to tour Stan Hywet Hall in Akron, Ohio during their Deck The Halls Christmas lights display. It was their 100 year anniversary so the lights were set up accordingly and they certainly did deck the halls of the historical home.

For many people on the tour, I imagine they appreciated the history of the home as they walked through, especially since the estate does such a wonderful job displaying the home in its original grandeur. I perhaps took it a step further as I walked through vividly working with my imagination to imagine a family living in this home for decades in the early part of the 20th century.

Stan Hywet Hall was completed in 1915, it took three years to build. The home was commissioned by F.A. Seiberling, the founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, who helped transform Akron into the “Rubber Capital of the World”. The home was built in Tudor Revival style and used several historical structures from England as inspiration.

The main structure of the home was three stories, though the music room was two stories, and the tower climbed up to four stories. The home has a total of 64,500 square feet within which are 65 rooms, 18 bedrooms, 23 bathrooms, 23 fireplaces, 12 chimneys, 273 doors, and 21,455 window panes scattered throughout the structure.

The mansion’s name comes from Old English meaning “stone quarry”, which is what the land featured in which Seiberling bought to situate his home. The entirety of the estate spans 70 acres with the manor and gardens included.

Above the main entryway to the home is carved the motto “Non Sobis Solum” (Not for us alone), which is certainly what the Seiberling family ensured the home would serve when they donated it to the Akron community in 1957.

Stan Hywet Hall is the sixth largest home open to the public in the United States and the largest in Ohio. While the holiday lights was fantastic it is worth visiting anytime of year, I imagine it is especially so in the spring summer when the gardens are in full bloom.

100 Years of Natural Beauty

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In 2016, the United States National Park Service will celebrate its 100th birthday. The organization came into existence when it was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 under the name the Organic Act. However, the national parks had a much older history than that, Yellowstone National Park was declared the first by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. There were eight other national parks dedicated from that time to the creation of the park service.

A great deal of the natural preservation can be credited to President Teddy Roosevelt, who was a conservationist himself. During his presidency from 1901 to 1909, Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service and created five national parks. Since the National Park Service’s founding many more parks have been founded with a total of 58 total across 27 states. In addition to the national parks, the National Park Service has taken over many other places of historical, geological, and ecological importance. Today there are 463 National Park Service related areas across the United States and four U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands).

While some of the national parks charge admission, there a few days a year the park service waives the fees to encourage more visitors to the parks. There are 16 such free days in 2016 to celebrate the park service’s 100th anniversary. The others are free to visit year-round.

  • January 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • April 16 through 24: National Park Week
  • August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 24: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

The U.S. National Parks average over 275 million visitors a year, which is encouraging considering just how beautiful these places are. Below is a map of the United States color-coded to display how many national parks each state features.

 

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Location of National Parks in the United States

 

Every state has at least one National Park Service related area so please take a day and visit one. And there’s a good chance that a national park isn’t too far away for a visit. Chances are if you visit once you’ll want to go back, or even better visit more!

I’d love to hear about the national parks you’ve visited and your favorite reasons why. Please take a moment to let me know about your national park adventures on the comment sections of this blog below.

With summer not far off don’t forget to Find Your Park!

101 Things to do in 1001 Days: Take 2

101 Things to do in 1001 Days is a unique spin on a bucket list.

Less than a year ago, I wrote out my first list of 101 Things to Do in 1001 Days and while I accomplished some of what was on the list I realized I needed to rework it some and try again. So I decided to reboot my list and this time, start on a date that made sense, the beginning of the year.

I like this list because I feel it’s more ambitious and definitely has its fair share of adventures. I’m taking steps to make visual cues of this list too so I constantly have a visual of these bucket list items and that way I’ll be more accountable for achieving them.

So here we go!

Start: January 1, 2016

End:  September 28, 2018

Stay tuned…

1. Go ziplining

2. See the Pacific Ocean

3. Visit 10 new states (2/10-Delaware 7/16, New Jersey 10/16)

4. Run a race

5. Get published

6. Visit the Four Corners

7. Hike the Appalachian Trail

8. Start a Roth IRA

9. Do a headstand

10. Go to a yoga class

11. Do a DIY project

12. Go scuba diving

13. See a music festival

14. Brew beer

15. Visit 10 cities (1/10-Philadelphia 7/16, New York City 10/16)

16. Visit 10 national parks (1/10)

17. Take a megabus trip

18. Teach a class

19. Attend a baseball game at 5  stadiums (1/5)

20. Go horseback riding

21. Get my passport

22. Go on a backpacking trip

23. Work as a lumberjack for a day

24. Visit Ellis Island

25. Visit the Redwood trees

26. Travel across the country by land

27. Take an impromptu road trip

28. Throw a dart at a map and visit where it lands

29. See a moose

30. See all 5 Great Lakes (1/5 – Lake Erie)

31. Climb 5 lighthouses

32. Write a book

33. Go rock climbing

34. Find a way to pull off suspenders

35. Attend a masquerade ball

36. Feed a penguin

37. Climb a tree

38. Learn to play a ukulele

39. Learn how to knit

40. Do a historical reenactment

41. Go swimming in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans

42. Learn to ice skate

43. Bike 2018 miles by the end of 1001 days

44. Bike on 10 trails (1/10)

45. Learn a language

46. Go canoeing/kayaking

47. Experience New Orleans for Mardi Gras

48. Golf a round of 18 holes keeping my score under 10 over par

49. Do a Polar Bear Plunge

50. Visit the Grand Canyon

51. Go to a hockey game

52. Ride the Hogwarts Express

53. Make my own butterbeer

54. Re-read the entire Harry Potter series in a month

55. Swim with otters

56. Go whitewater rafting

57. Tree swing into water

58. Plan a picnic

59. Visit 10 museums (6/10)

60. Visit 10 places of historical significance (2/10)

61. Grow 5 trees from seeds (1/5)

62. Visit 10 breweries (2/10)

63. Go to a spring training game

64. Try glass blowing

65. Visit an arboretum  (Holden Arboretum 8/16)

66. Visit New York City

67. Try paddleboarding

68. Visit Baseball Hall of Fame

69. Go spelunking

70. Create art

71. Ride a train

72. Learn to dance

73. Walk through a waterfall

74. Go geocaching

75. See the Northern Lights

76. Learn how to swim

77. Bury a time capsule

78. Try fencing

79. Learn to drive stick shift

80. Participate in an obstacle course race

81. Build an igloo

82. Be a tour guide

83. Go whale watching

84.  Try 5 new foods 

85. Go vegetarian for a week

86. Do something that terrifies me

87. Bike 50 miles in one day

88. Bike 100 miles in one day

89. Spend an entire day in a park

90. Try something completely out of my comfort zone

91. See playoff baseball in Cleveland

92. Plan an international trip

93. Visit natural hot springs

94. Visit the Mississippi River

95. Run a half-marathon

96. Join an archaeological dig

97. Pay it Forward

98. See a meteor shower

99. Sleep under the stars

100. Sleep in a blanket fort

101. Deposit $5 in my Roth IRA for every item on this list I complete


I’d encourage those of you who are working on bucket lists to consider trying 101 Things to do in 1001 Days. It attaches a date to your goals so perhaps it will motivate you to accomplish your bucket list. The best part is every time you accomplish something on your list, it’s totally appropriate to celebrate!

If any of you have ideas of opportunities or suggestions for ways I can accomplish parts of this list let me know or even better if you started your own list let me know about that too and leave a message in the comments!

A Forgotten Spot of the Founding Fathers

 

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Memorial Plaque to the duel

 

There is so much history to be found in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York pertaining to the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers. In fact, especially in Boston, you’d be hard pressed to walk around the city and come across a historical marker on at least a few occasions.

These designations are rightly so because the Founding Fathers set the stage in all the cities during the years of the Revolution and formative years of the United States.

There is another important location related to the Founding Fathers that doesn’t get much attention, or any for that matter. While, there may be very little there in the way of tourism, what transpired there is a very important event during America’s early years, the Burr-Hamilton duel that took place on July 11, 1804.

As a student of American history, I’ve always passed over the Burr-Hamilton duel but due to Hamilton: The Musical I recently had my priorities realigned to the importance of Hamilton to America. Yes, I did learn history from a musical and I’m not ashamed of it!

The duel was held between Aaron Burr, the current vice-president to Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, the first treasurer of the United States and a Founding Father. If you don’t know who Aaron Burr is that’s somewhat understandable, but you should definitely know the Alexander Hamilton guy (Hint: Look at a $10 bill).

Essentially, the duel was fought because Hamilton had sided with Jefferson, even though he and Jefferson never got along, against Burr in the Election of 1800. Hamilton’s influence swayed the electors to elect Jefferson president. In short, Burr took offense to Hamilton’s desire to vote for the opposition just to keep him out of office. So Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel out of honor and, in the end, Burr shot and killed Hamilton.

The duel took place is Weehawken, New Jersey as it was a popular dueling ground thanks to the geography of the bluffs that fit so well for the activity. While there isn’t much in the way of historical landmarks, there is a plaque below a bust of Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton Park designating that the duel happened in the vicinity. There is also a boulder there that stories say is where Hamilton laid his head after he was shot.

So next time you’re in New Jersey, a quick trip to this historical spot is worth it and as an added bonus it offers a wonderful view of Manhattan across the Hudson River.

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Crafting Your Way to Vacation

We all have ambitious daydreams of all sorts of traveling adventures we want to embark on someday. The problem in many cases is saving money to afford these travels.

I know that’s always been my problem, planning ahead. For instance, I had a chance to study abroad in England and I didn’t plan ahead, and, of course, I’m kicking myself all these years later because of it.

Until recently, I always had these grand ideas of saving money in a bank account for travels and such. Luckily, I stumbled upon a better more crafty way to do this, and all you need is a large mason jar and some simple math skills.

The first step is to purchase a large crafting mason jar. It may seem awkward at first,  but I promise you’ll want the large storage capacity.

Once you purchase your jar, feel free to decorate it with whatever trip you want to plan for, the visual cues will help as the weeks go on.  A great way to do this is to spray the outside of the jar with chalkboard spray paint. This allows you to be creative in your drawing to depict your dream vacation and gives you a way to keep track what week you’re on in the savings! While, I’m not exactly artistic, as you can see in my depiction of Hawaii, I’m sure even a simple depiction on your jar with your destination will be a great motivator.

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Don’t mind my not so great art skills.

After this comes the tricky part, the math.

I am by no means great at math, but I was able to sit down and figure out these simple numbers to prove the success of the travel jar. The basic plan is to place $1 in the jar for the first week of the year and then once a week for the remainder of the year deposit money that is equal to that week it is in the year (ie. week 1=$1…week 10=$10).  What this year-long savings plan amounts to is $1,378, that amounts to a lot of travel money!

The best part about this is, at least in the early weeks, is it doesn’t seem like an incredible amount of money to save. Of course, depending on how much money you need for your trip you can adjust the travel jar savings plan however you like.

The beauty of this whole thing is just how simple it is, but even with its simplicity it’s effective. Not to mention it’s creative and who doesn’t want to save creatively!

Coloring in the lines

I wish I was artsy.  I’ve never been a good musician, I really don’t have an eye for photography, I can’t paint or draw, and I’m not very crafty.

I have great ideas for artsy things, but they never make it anywhere mostly because even if I tried people would probably ask what happened to it. I never evolved from stick figures if I’m honest, and caveman drawings are probably better than what I can put together.

I could argue I do have one artistic skill, writing, but I’m not sure what I do is writing really, it’s more like rambling. Though if there are at least a few of you reading this then I feel accomplished!

The other day I tried my hand at a coloring book for the first time in years…I still can’t color in the lines, but it was still fun so that’s something! Colors are fun and I have a vivid imagination so it’s at least a great way to get some creativity out. I guess what I’ve come to figure out is even if I’m not artsy it still feels fun to try.

For those of us who are artistically challenged adult coloring books are a thing and still just as much fun as they were when we were kids! I imagine the majority of you can at least manage to color in the lines.

I’m sure countless artists of all different mediums had their humble beginnings where their work wasn’t great. Though I don’t personally know him, I doubt Michaelangelo carved his masterpiece on his first go around. So maybe there is still hope for me. My latest lead for being artsy is becoming a knitting graffiti artist, and yes it is a real thing!

Of course, I’ll keep writing because I’m sure you’d be desperately lost without a new collection of my ramblings every now again to read.

PGH_knit_the_brdge

More Typewriter Please

As a person who writes I should value all mediums of writing and I do. Paper and pencil is what we all grew up on, but my handwriting is some kind of mess so I don’t often opt for that. Of course, there is the most common method used now, the computer, which is simple, fast, and clean.

Up until around the 7th grade I did all my writing assignments by hand though for a brief moment I used a typewriter. Since being introduced to the computer, yes, I grew up in an old-fashioned household where I didn’t have a computer until then,  I have predominantly used computers. At least until recently because I’ve decided to embrace the typewriter again.

A typewriter is kind of like the perfect middle ground between handwriting and writing on a computer. It allows writing to be cleaner and maybe even a little faster while it also allows you to be portable without having to worry about electricity. Perhaps more so than any of these, I think writing on a typewriter somehow makes the writing more deliberate.

Every keystroke makes a sound as it strikes the paper and I think it is this action that makes the act of writing on a typewriter a more involved experience. You can’t delete a typo or fix a mistake so you have to be more careful of what you write and perhaps that’s what makes it a more intimate writing experience.

While writing with a typewriter may not be the most practical method, I think it’s definitely something I will continue to enjoy doing. Who knows maybe I’ll write the next great American novel via this typewriter or I might just write some really awesome letters! That brings up another thing, I miss writing and receiving letters, so maybe I’ll start doing more of that too.

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