Thoughts On An Overcast Day

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I keep a planner. The monthly part of the calendar is my personal calendar of appointments and scheduling, birthdays and anniversaries to be remembered, and the weekly pages are where I plan my writing for Griffins and Ginger Snaps. This year, writing has been a struggle.

I have been more or less reliable in the publishing of posts, but these last few weeks have certainly been more difficult. There was so much going on in August and when I looked back on it, it seemed that they were all mental worries.

Not that they were all in my head, but it wasn’t that my feelings of busyness was having a lot of appointments or places to go, but it was all mental gymnastics – getting dinner planned, communicating with the school for my kids’ return, planning our vacation while simultaneously planning on not going, keeping up on election news, and so many other things. It’s been rough, and I know I’m not alone in this.

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“Friday” Food. August.

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It seemed as though all we ate were chicken wings, mac & cheese, soft pretzels, ice cream, and donuts! Everything was amazing! I’ll have several posts in future days with information if you travel to the western New York area. Some things can even be ordered through the mail!

Listed in clockwise order:

  1. Roast beef and gravy on a weck roll. (Say Cheese! The Comic Book Cafe.)
  2. Pizza Logs. (Anchor Bar – the home of the original Buffalo Wings.)
  3. The Mighty Taco quesadilla with sour cream.
  4. Niagara water.
  5. Char-BQ chicken wings. (Duff’s Wings)
  6. Bavarian Pretzel with mustard and cheese. (NY Beer Project)
  7. Manhattan Mac & Cheese with garlic bread (NY Beer Project)
  8. Small (really! small!) Birthday Bash Ice Cream. (De-Dee’s Dairy)
  9. Angel cream donut (like Boston Creme with vanilla cream inside). (Paula’s Donuts.)
Some of the regional and delicious foods we had while on vacation last week in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and its environs, NY. (c)2020

Inspire. August.

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August’s inspiration posts were delayed by the entire month, but I am determined that this post tonight at the latest. It is the last day of August and there is still inspiration to be had.

August began with my being sick, some days quite ill, and I went to the Department of Health to take a covid test, which fortunately came back negative.

We’re still receiving updates from my children’s school and they are almost ready to return; one virtually and one in an in-person hybrid model.

We also were able to take a much needed family vacation, which we understand is a privilege in these uncertain times. I credit that to many things, not the least of which is the seriousness that New York State took in combatting the coronavirus. We remained in New York, and that gave us the ability to travel and to do so without a fourteen day quarantine anywhere else we may have gone. It wasn’t our original plan, but we were all together and we had a great week.

I mention this because the one thing I want to share with you for the August inspire post is a museum that we visited that I would encourage everyone to visit. I will write more about it in later days, but here is a small glimpse:

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is located at 825 West Depot Avenue West in Niagara Falls, New York. It has only been open for about two years, and was reopened on July 18th after Covid closures.

It is very reasonably priced: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors (62+), $6 for children 6-12, and Free for children 5 and under.

There is limited parking shared with the Amtrak station and it is on the Discover Niagara Shuttle, a free service in the city of Niagara Falls that operates May through October. They’ve recently reopened after Covid closures.

The Heritage Center is a beautiful balance of the heartbreak of slavery and escape from bondage and the people who helped them flee. It is at once inspiring and emotional. In one instant, a story caused me to weep while others made me feel joy at their new lives in Canada.

It is a small venue, but well worth the time. I would return again to enjoy the few things that were not available due to covid restrictions.

Inside the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. (c)2020
We are *this* close to freedom.
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. (c)2020

Labyrinths Heal; The Rain Reflects

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Early on in the pandemic, when we’d just begun the lockdown with work places shutting down, restaurants closed, and schools closing, we were only just getting used to having the kids at home, shopping once a week, avoiding people as much as possible, including even our son who lived on his own, plus being in a constant low level state of anxiety, keeping ongoing lists in my head, living, breathing, reading, and writing everything I could about coronavirus 20/7 with four hours leftover for sleep. Often, I couldn’t get through that minimum of four hours. I tried watching the White House’s coronavirus briefings; I thought they would be useful and informative. I thought they would quell my anxiety of those early days of unknown. My priest called them “dark days of confusion,” and they truly were. We’re still in them sometimes now. Those briefings didn’t help; they left me with higher levels of anxiety.

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World Otter Day

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Today Wednesday is was World Otter Day. Everyday should be World Otter Day!

Apparently, I had the wrong date in my planner and this makes me sad. My kids, my son especially have had an obsession with otters for several years now. There is a beaver near where we live, and for the longest time, my son called him an otter. When we explained that it was a beaver, he continued to call it an otter….or a skinny beaver. We see him throughout the spring, summer, and part of fall.

When my daughter and I went to Florida a couple of years ago for my aunt’s 95th birthday celebration we went to Flamingo Gardens where we saw real, live otters. We were so excited. They were enthralling.

Two years later, this past February, right before the pandemic, my son was able to go their with my husband and see the same otters. He was thrilled.

I thought I would share this video that I took in 2017, and I also wanted to encourage everyone to check out the work of the International Otter Survival World Fund (IOSF) and donate if you can.

Video of Otters at Flamingo Gardens, 2017. (c)2017-2020

What to Do in Isolation/Quarantine (Updated 4/29/20)

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We’ve got our milk, bread, toilet paper, and kids home. It’s only been a few days, and we are in it for the long haul: two weeks, four weeks, six. We just don’t know right now. What can we do from the sanctity of our homes without risking our health or the health of others? Here are a few suggestions.

Imagineering in a Box – Free online course where you will “go behind the scenes with Disney Imagineers and complete project-based exercises to design a theme park of your very own.” (In collaboration with Khan Academy.)
Good Night with Dolly Dolly Parton will read weekly bedtime stories beginning on April 2 at 7pm ET. The first book will be The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper. The rest of the ten weeks of books will be: There’s a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake by Loren Long, Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, I Am a Rainbow by Dolly Parton, Pass It On by Sophy Henn, Stand Tall Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell, Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen, Max & The Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, and Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton

Children’s Book Authors Read-Aloud

National Aquarium in Baltimore – Livestreams of The Blacktip Reef, Jellies Invasion, Pacific Coral Reef

New York Public Library – (for NYC residents with a library card) (CONTACT YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY ABOUT THEIR E-BOOK PROGRAMS)

NASA makes their entire media library publicly accessible and COPYRIGHT FREE

33 National Park Tours You Can Take Virtually

15 Broadway Plays and Musicals You Can Watch on Stage from Home (best filmed and where to find them)

FREE Coloring Books from 113 Museums

Virtual Field Trips – including San Diego Zoo, Yellowstone National Park, Mars!!!, Animal Cameras, Virtual Farm Tour, US Space and Rocket Museum in Hunsville AL, Discovery Education, The Louvre, The Great Wall of China, Boston’s Children’s Museum

12 Museums Offering Virtual Tours – including British Museum (London), Guggenheim Museum (NY), National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), Musee d’Orsay (Paris), National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul), Pergamon Museum (Berlin), Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), The J. Paul Getty Museum (L.A.), Uffizi Gallery (Florence), MASP (Sao Paulo), National Museum of Anthropology (Mexico City)

14 Beautiful, Dramatic Waterfalls in North Wales (this is primarily a travel article, but they’re still pretty to look at! And Wales!

Metropolitan Opera offering Nightly Met Opera Streams – see the link for details and limits.

Five Gardens You Can Virtually Visit – Waddesdon Manor (Waddesdon, England), Claude Monet’s Garden (Giverny, France), Chicago Botanic Garden (Chicago, IL), Hawai’i Tropical Botanical Garden (Papaikou, Hawai’i), Kew Gardens (Richmond, England).

Hogwarts Digital Escape Room

Ivy League Courses Online for FREE

How to Be Happier in Your Daily Life (popular Yale University course – ONLINE FREE (Source: Business Insider)

Tour New York State Parks (virtual)

Activities at The Spy Museum

Twitter for Voice Actors Read. There are many voice actors reading books aloud to you and your children.

Tour The Winchester Mystery House (virtual tour)

Tour the Paris Catacombs (virtual tour)

I Love NY Landmark Coloring Pages

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES
The Parents’ Guide to Google Classroom

What to Do with your Kids When Schools are Canceled

Harry the Dirty Dog read by Betty White

The Very Hungry Caterpillar read by author, Eric Carle

Outdoor Scavenger Hunts from Buttonwood Park Library

Easy Toilet Paper Roll Crafts (when you use up your stash of toilet paper!)

Outdoor and Indoor Scavenger Hunts from Leicester Library

Home Safari at the Cincinnati Zoo

50 Ways to Keep Kids Engaged at Home During the Coronavirus Shutdown

Miniature Bookshop DIY – cost $36.99

NASA Space Station STEM Activities

Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY (Safe at Home Program)

Virtual Tour of Auschwitz

Hen Galan

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Today marks the celebration of Hen Galan or the Welsh New Year. This has been celebrated in Wales on 13 January since 1752 when Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar from the Julian one, making the new year begin on January 1st. This is the Gregorian calendar which we use today. At that time, many people believed that losing those eleven days from the calendar coincided with losing those eleven days from their lives.

The village of Cwn Gwaun continues to celebrate this holiday in modern times. If the day falls on a weekday, school is closed. The town gathers with each other, in houses or more likely in the pub in town. It’s festive, filled with fun and feasting in celebration. Children go door-to-door or farm-to-farm around the valley parish (about 18 miles) singing traditional Welsh songs and receiving calennig from the grown-ups, sweets or money. It was like having two Christmases.

Enjoy the following links and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Hen Galan: Welsh village celebrates new year on 13 January (first published 2019)

The tiny Welsh village that celebrates New Year’s Eve on this night every year: In Cwn Gwaun they party like it’s 1699! (first published 2018)

Gwaun Valley children mark old New Year (first published 2012)

Snowdon Mountains, North Wales. (c)2020

Travel – Road Trip Snacks

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In the US, Thanksgiving is the biggest eating holiday of the year. And still, our kids want to eat on the way to dinner or in the days before while we’re traveling to Grandma’s or wherever you spend your holidays.

1. Pretzels. I personally love cheese doodles, but I never eat them in the car. Too messy. Pretzels are simple, fat-free, and easy to brush off when you get out of the car.

2. Bottle of water. The heat in the car can be very drying. Be prepared for complaints.

3. M&Ms. The candy that melts in your mouth, and not in your hands. (TM) Small, easy to carry, not messy if you don’t let them melt, and honestly, who does?

4. Twizzlers. A punch of sugar without the sticky fingers.

5. Popcorn. Also not messy, easy to brush off and clean up, but be sure to remember that bottle of water!

Travel – Scavenger Hunt

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​Last week, I shared Kids’ Travel Bags for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Today, I am offering some suggestions for one of those items in the bags: the scavenger hunt sheet. It is below the cut, and permission is granted to download and print it for your own use with your family.

One of the things the past seven years of Gishing has taught me is that there are many ways to interpret something. It’s allowed me to rethink my concept of the scavenger hunt for one thing. Rather than collect things only to get rid of them at the end, I’ve really incorporated the idea of re-purposing, finding and documenting, and being a force for good, whether that’s as a Good Samaritan, doing good deeds, or making the world better through my time, talent, and treasure, and of course through civic responsibility. All of those things will be different depending on the hunter’s perspective.

I planned a mini Scavenger hunt for my kids for our most recent vacation. This is not an easy task as they are somewhat spread out in age: 13, 14, and 22, as well as personality and tolerance for this sort of thing.

Some items were be for collection, although not many. Most were photos or videos and journaling. It was a lot of fun, and it kept them busy for our long drive. Hopefully, it will help in your Thanksgiving travels.

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Travel – Kids’ Fun Bags

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​For those of us in the US, the next two weeks have us frantically preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday. For a holiday that is supposed to be a time to settle in with our loved ones and reflect on our lucky we are, how grateful we are to have our needs and wants met as well as to think about how to help those less fortunate in meaningful ways, it sure is a stressful, anxiety-filled, busy time. For the US, with so many diverse cultures, ethnicities, and religions, Thanksgiving is one of the few things that we share. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but we can all be a part of the Thanksgiving mindset. We are all thankful for something, and one of those things is where we are privileged to live. Many countries around the world set aside a day for thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in the US is also the busiest travel day of the year. We are waiting in lines at the airport, on the highways, at the convenience stores for that last cup of coffee to get us there. Those of us that travel with kids know how difficult it can be to map out the route, pack the snacks, and keep the kiddos entertained over hill and dale on the way to Grandma’s (or whomever’s) house.

While we were on vacation this past August, I set up a small paper gift bag for each of my children, a travel bag that they received once they were in the car and we were at least one hundred miles from home. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how this was going to go over. Their ages at the time were 22, 14, and 13, and they each have their own phones that alternate entertaining them and boring them to tears. I did think that maybe they were too old for this sort of thing, but still, I thought it would be something different.

They surprised me. Even my oldest seemed to like his travel bag. He’s not one to complain anyway. I sneaked a look into the back seat, and saw him perusing each item curiously, and I knew that no matter what else, this was a success!

What did I include, you ask?

1. A small, plain, paper gift bag, about the size to fit a paperback book. I didn’t put their names on the bag so I could re-use them, but I did attach a colored paperclip to each one so I’d know who’s belonged to who since some items were child specific. The bag could also be used for their garbage that tends to accumulate on the floor at their feet.

2. Bottle of water

3. Small unlined notepad and a pen

4. Candy – M&Ms, Swedish fish, Skittles, something that came in a package with many small candies.

5. Package of Mini-Muffins.

6. Granola bar

7. A half sheet of paper with a list of apps they should download that were related to our destination. If Grandma lives in another state, it might be interesting for them to check out a few new apps, maybe a game too.

8. A folded paper with list for a Scavenger Hunt. They really (all of them) had great fun with this.

9. Netflix password.

10. Some things that I included for our vacation that I would not include for the Thanksgiving holiday were: a card with the hotel information on it, the phone number for weather information for my daughter who is interested in such things, Tim Horton’s gift card for $5 but any fast food gift card would do, and a packet of their vacation money.

What would you include? Share below!