Monday, August 30, 2010

Monumental Mountains - Part I

" live in a country where you can take an ugly old mountain and put faces on it, faces of great Americans who did so much to make our country super great, well that makes me, Rebecca Leeman, proud to be an American."

-Becky Ann Leeman, "Drop Dead Gorgeous"

Well, I have a feeling after seeing the area around Mount Rushmore that the big old mountain that Becky speaks of was never ugly...

We just returned from vacation - one that rivals the best vacation I've ever been on, which was our southwest road trip from Vegas to the Grand Canyon to Sedona to Phoenix. We came home realizing that the one thing you absolutely must see if you live or visit North America is the Grand Canyon, and it piqued our interest in visiting other National Parks throughout the country. We knew somewhere down the road, Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills National Park would be another destination.

Flash forward six years, where we went from two to three in our family. We put off any big vacations for a while, because we wanted out daughter to be old enough to appreciate it and after several east coast road trips and a venture into Ohio last year, we felt she was ready for a "big" trip. Funny thing, though, we booked this whole trip about three weeks before our departure! We weren't sure we'd be able to swing it until the very last minute, but thanks to a few things going our way and cashing in some rewards points, it all worked out.

You may have noticed - we're movie buffs. Any chance we get, we try to work in some sort of movie reference, so as we tossed around the idea of visiting Mt Rushmore, I kept repeating the "big ugly mountain" quote from "Drop Dead Gorgeous". Sure, I was joking, but a part of me - maybe because I hated the Becky Leeman character and secretly snickered when (****SPOILER ALERT!!!) the gasoline soaked swan float she was riding on exploded - kind of felt a bit of animosity toward people that feel they have to make their mark on something pure and natural. I mean, I love my country - I bitch about it a lot less than most people I know, taking the good with the bad, voting every chance I get and trying to be a good citizen and do my part to make it work - but why oh why do you have to take a perfectly beautiful mountain and totally reshape it? Of course, I DID want to see it, and I knew I would ooh and aah over it, but pride and patriotism aside, I think that some of the most beautiful things about this country are the things we haven't touched.

One visit to the Grand Canyon instilled that in me.

Our first night in Hill City, SD, we took a little ride around town then past Mt Rushmore to get our first glimpse, and in a way I was relieved to see that it looked a lot smaller than I had imagined, so it didn't seem so "fake" to me. I was able to appreciate the man-made beauty it possesses.

Ok, so it's pretty. It's majestic. It makes you think about the foundations of this country, and some of the men who made it "super great". George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. When you think about the times they live during, their individual stories and their contributions to our country, you tend to forgive that a tiny piece of natural beauty was given up in their honor, so that we may be reminded of their history, and of ours.

You enter through the visitors' center, passing by columns adorned with each state's flag, as well as a few U.S Territories'. The sculpture seems kind of small at first.

At the base is an amphitheater, where people gather at night to watch a presentation as lights flicker on to illuminate the faces on the mountain.

What I didn't expect was how close you are able to get to the mountain. All around the base are trails you can walk to get different views of the mountain.

This one was taken from a chasm below the mountain, between two huge slabs of stone...

The walk goes on for quite a distance, some parts easy, some parts a little more challenging, but there are plenty of places to stop and rest.

It takes about an hour to walk all along the base of the mountain.

Finally you get back to your starting point and walk up a few flights of stairs to the vistors' center.

Turns out, George, Thomas, Teddy and Abe have a pretty decent view, too!

After leaving the monument, most people head back the way they came, ignoring the little sign that reads "George Washington Profile View" but we continued around the mountain and came upon this....

I left Mt. Rushmore without any feelings that the beauty of nature had been violated somehow. It's another must-see for anyone who makes it to this part of the country. And not just because of the happy, feel-good, patriotic emotions it brings, but as you travel throughout the area you also have to, as a citizen of the United States of America, take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize that in addition to all the greatness our forefathers brought to this land, there is a dark side that we should not forget, either....

Our accomplishments and our mistakes, both personal and as a nation, make us who we are, and neither should be forgotten.

To be continued.....

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday In My City: Back From Vacation

We arrived home from our awesome vacation yesterday, so for this week's Sunday In My City, hosted by Unknown Mami, I'm not going anywhere except maybe the home office so I can finish downloaded the gazillion photos we took!

We flew into Denver, Colorado on Saturday, August 21st and stayed two nights so we could have a full day in and around Denver. Really nice city - people are very friendly and the weather was in the 90's but none of that humidity that we tend to get in the northeast. Monday we made the 6-hour drive to South Dakota, through eastern Wyoming, and made it to our home base in Hill City, SD.

Tuesday we visited....

Mount's George Washington's profile....

...and the better known view of Mount Rushmore...

Just a few minutes away is the Crazy Horse Monument (in progress) When complete, those four faces you see at Mount Rushmore? They will fit into that space behind Crazy Horse's head...

After spending a considerable amount of time at those two places, we headed to Custer State Park and drove the Needle Highway....wonder why they call it that?

Maybe because driving your rented Chevy Tahoe through this is kind of like threading a needle? :)

Custer State Park was beautiful!

We made some friends with the wildlife....

Wednesday is head to Wyoming Day to visit the first National Landmark, Devil's Tower....

I cannot aptly describe the coolness of this place....just amazing! This is sacred ground to Native Americans, and I can see why.

Thursday we headed out to the Badlands of South Dakota, stopping at the famous Wall Drug...

Then onto the mysterious, beautiful, rugged Badlands. You drive through Nationals Grasslands, vast stretches of flat prairie, then suddenly you are here....

Much like the Grand Canyon, you just can't capture it on film.

Friday we headed back to Denver - a long ride, but beautiful land.

And yesterday we arrived back in Boston.

Looking forward to sharing more with you! It was a great trip!

Thanks for stopping by and happy Sunday to you!

Be sure to stop by Unknown Mami's to share your Sunday with us!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday In My City - Green Hill Park

This week for Sunday In My City we visited one of the many parks in Worcester, MA, Green Hill Park...

Worcester is sometimes referred to as the City of Seven mother-in-law could name them all, but to me it seems like there's a heck of a lot more hills here! Anyway, Green Hill Park sits atop one of the official seven, Belmont Hill.

Green Hill has a golf course, playground, basketball/tennis courts, lots of grassy areas for picnicking, beautiful views and a small farm.

I had only driven by this once before and it had seemed rather shabby. I was quite pleased to see that it was nicely maintained, and the handful of animals seemed happy and healthy.

First we visited the sheep....

Then the pigs...

Then my favorite, the miniature horse

(she was very friendly...came trotting right over to us!)

The llamas (I thought they were alpaca, but they're not!) kept their distance...

Which is a good thing...llamas always seem to spit at me.

The goats were friendly...

On our way out we saw a kite flying in the time we're bringing ours! Being on top of a big hill, it's usually pretty breezy here.

The last time I had visited here, it was shortly after the park's Vietnam Memorial was dedicated. We didn't get a chance to get out and walk around this time - my little one was tired after our two-mile bike ride earlier today! But it is a lovely memorial....

Maybe we'll come back next Sunday!

Thank you Unknown Mami for hosting Sunday In My City once again! If you'd like to share your Sunday with her, click here!

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Saturday Splurge - Makin' Whoopie...Pies, that is!

Last night we went out to dinner with friends to one of our old faithful places, The Boynton, in Worcester. The boys both got baked haddock and Tracy and I both got one of the specials, Brewster Striped Bass with green beans, onions and shaved fennel. Yum. And White Mango Sangria. Really good! I could go for another one right now!

The Boynton does have it's share of fine desserts, but when we dine there we usually forego the dessert menu and skip next door to The Bean Counter, a little coffee shop with some of the best pastry and desserts, and a huge variety of coffees and teas to choose from. Glass cases display everything from wedges of cheesecake, to cupcakes, to single-serving tiramisu or chocolate molten cakes, brownies, cookies, biscotti, and in large glass apothecary jars up on top, an assortment of big chunky cookies - mostly vegan. And as far as Tracy is concerned, the holy grail of vegan desserts, their Vegan Whoopie Pies. She's not vegan (hence the fish dinner) she loves these things!

I much preferred the Double Chocolate Biscotti, or the Vegan Peanut Butter Chip cookies (my choice last night!), as "Vegan Whoopie Pies" didn't sound all that tempting to me. Then one night, Tracy asked "What's in these?" and the girl behind the counter replied, "Well, they're basically just oatmeal cookies with a vegan buttercream-type filling, that's all".

I must have dreamed about them, because today I started dreaming up whoopie-pie type recipes. Tracy has us over for dinner quite a bit and I would love to surprise her next time with homemade vegan whoopie pies, maybe with a little twist. And here's what I ended up making....


The cookie part came out perfect - as a cookie or whoopie pie component - but I think I need to work on the filling. Of course, I de-veganized it this time around, just to see if my theories would work. First, I subbed 1/2 cup mashed banana in place of the eggs I normally would use. Then I wanted maple flavor, but maple syrup tends to lose its flavor when cooked, so I went with maple flavoring, saving a touch of the real stuff for the filling...which is very....shortening-y and sweet. I need to work on that!

But the end result isn't bad at all! So if you're in the mood - even if for only the cookie - give this one a shot!


For the cookies....

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 tbsp molasses

1/2 cup mashed ripe banana

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp maple flavoring

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat flour)

1/2 tsp, baking powder

1/2 tsp. Baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

3 cups old fashioned oats

1/2 cup walnuts, very finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Cream together butter, sugar and brown sugar. Beat in banana, molasses, vanilla and maple extract.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir in oats.

Add the flour/oat mixture alternately with the buttermilk to the batter (1/3 of the flour/oat mixture, 1/4 cup buttermilk, another 1/3 flour/oats, rest of the buttermilk, rest of the flour/oats) beating well after each addition. Stir in nuts.

Using a large cookie scoop or ice cream scoop, place cookie dough on greased baking sheets, 2” apart. Press down slightly, if desired (cookies will not spread a whole lot,so they retain their shape)

Bake 10-12 minutes or until tops look dry and cookies are just golden around the edges. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

For the filling...

1 cup shortening

1 tbsp maple syrup

1/2 tsp vanilla

4 c confectioner’s sugar

pinch salt

2 tbsp (or so) milk

Beat shortening until smooth.

Beat in vanilla and maple syrup, then beat in confectioner's sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Add a little milk as needed to achieve desired consistency.

Sandwich filling between two cooled cookies.

(You can also make smaller cookies - this makes 12 4"-5" cookies or 12 whoopie pies.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday In My City - Of Bridges and Bicycles

Greetings fellow Sunday In My City participants!

Not much going on in central Massachusetts this weekend...just a few errands around Worcester.

We saw a big bridge....

Here's a close up as we passed underneath...

...and a little bridge...

And somehow came home with a new bike!

Still trying to figure out how that happened! ;)

Actually our girl is growing by leaps and bounds, and yesterday she had a friend over to ride bikes. I noticed that she kept bumping her knees on the handlebars, so it was time for a new bike. Not quite ready to take the training wheels of yet, though!

Big Bridge = Southbridge Street Bridge in Worcester, MA (Miss Worcester Diner is slightly visible to the right...I heart diners).

Little Bridge = one of the many Providence & Worcester Railroad bridges around here, and this one is in my town. Growing up, the P&W trains ran pretty much right through my back yard. I remember running down and placing rocks or pennies on the tracks before the train came through every afternoon.

Hope you are having a lovely Sunday!

Check out the other Sundays in My City over at Unkown Mami's!