Friday, December 30, 2016

Day 2: The Gingerbread Church

And I'm back! I left you last time with a bunch of pieces that--allegedly--will fit together like pieces of a puzzle and magically turn into a church. It's time to have a church-raising!

First, I needed some "glue" to hold everything together: frosting.

The royal icing is ready!
The directions in my book had the walls go up, then to decorate them. But my new book suggested that it might be easier to decorate the walls then raise them, and I like that idea. So here I'm adding an outline to the stained-glass windows.
The front of the church has been decorated with garlands!
Now is a convenient time to do some of the piping I'll need later. I created some weather vanes and a window decoration. I only needed one of each, but these are very fragile and I wanted to make extras.
It's also a convenient time to shingle the church spire and create a clock for the clock tower. I made two clocks (built on a Necco waffer). The one in the background I covered completely with frosting while the one in the foreground I let the waffer show through. I wasn't sure which option I would like better, so I made both!
The finished church spire. I used sliced almonds for the shingles.
The directions in my book said to use styrofoam for the steps in front of the church, but I wanted to use edible stuff exclusively, so I decided to use Rice Crispy treats for them. I could also use them as extra supports inside the church to help hold the walls up when they're drying. So now I'm cooking up some Rice Crispy treats.
It's coming together!
And it's done!
But I still needed to cut the pieces out to size.
And finally, with all my ducks in a row, it's time to raise the walls! During this step, it's useful to have lots of arms--certainly more than two!--so I enlisted my mom to help hold the pieces together while I'm raising the pieces one by one.
The walls are up and the steps in the front installed! To help support the walls, I put Rice Crispy treats in each of the four corners inside the church (they won't be particularly visible when it's done), and even the steps help hold the front wall up. I used the cans and chicken broth to help hold the walls up as well, but they'll be removed when the icing dries.
It's looking good! =)
While that's drying, I then set to work in creating the clock tower and bell tower, which are those upside-down pieces on the right. They'll need time to dry as well.

And that's it for now! This is a good place to stop--and fortunately, there's no rain in the forecast so the lack of a roof on the church shouldn't be a problem. Stay tuned! There's more to come! =)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Day 1: The Gingerbread Church

It's been a few years since I've built a gingerbread house and I've wanted to get my hands dirty with one for awhile now. So finally, after a seven year hiatus, I've sat down to do just that. One thing I've always wanted to try was creating a stained-glass effect in a gingerbread window, so this year, I'm making a gingerbread church. Or at least I'm going to try to. As I type this, the gingerbread church is still under construction and it could be a compete and utter failure, but--if it is--I'll document its glorious demise. A win-win for this blog, no matter how it turns out! =)

First, let me introduce you to the book I'm using--Gingerbread: Things To Make and Bake. It's the same book I've used for past gingerbread creations. One of the projects is a church, and that's the one I've decided to focus on. Mostly for the stained-glass windows, but it's a pretty little church too. =)

A new book in my collection (a gift from Amanda last year) is A Year of Gingerbread Houses. It has some really nice designs that I'd like to try someday, but it also has a lot of interesting ideas about how to construct gingerbread houses in general. It shows a ton of different ways to create trees, half a dozen ways to create lakes (or other water features), etc. Pick the effects you're looking for and it's here. The gingerbread church design doesn't really have much of a yard around it, so I plan to use ideas from this new book to decorate a small yard.

So now it's time to get some work done! The first step is among the most boring of steps: Tracing out the design of the project to tracing paper, then cutting out the design. Most of the pieces are largely squarish and quick to do, but the front and side walls were tediously slow due to the large number of windows they had. The stained-glass windows would be on the side walls, and it work by cutting out windows from the gingerbread--just like any other window--then the holes are filled with hard candies pieces like Lifesavers and melted into place.

Cutting out lots of individual windows is a very slow, tedious process, though.  And there were a lot of little windows.....

I have my books out and ready! =)
And after a few hours of work, I've traced out all of the patterns I'll need for the gingerbread church. Ideally, when I'm done, it should look something like the photo in the book. =)
Next step was to start creating the gingerbread! One thing I'll point out: My rule for gingerbread houses is that it has to be made up from only edible stuff. This does not mean it has to taste good--I don't plan to eat the finished creation nor do I expect anyone else to. So when it comes to recipes, it more important for the product to look nice and be structurally sound, but it doesn't have to taste good. The gingerbread recipe the books suggest aren't the tastiest options you can use, but the new book does have a "good tasting" recipe that's not ideal for construction purposes.

So, creating the gingerbread... First I mixed the dry ingredients, then cooked the wet ones in a pot and mixed them both individually, then together. It gets real thick, real fast, and eventually had to kneed the gingerbread with my hands to get them all mixed together.

The dry ingredients for the gingerbread is ready for mixing. (Flour, ginger, cinnamon and salt.)
The wet ingredients are ready for cooking and mixing. (Brown sugar, light corn syrup, and butter.)
It's coming along....
Almost ready!
Mixing the wet and dry ingredients together.
Mixing the gingerbread is a hands-on job!
It's almost ready!
Once the dough is ready, it's time to roll it out and cut out the pieces! (I'm done cutting out the pieces in this photo. I'm trying to clean up an edge that was a bit rough in this photo.) These pieces were relatively quick and easy to do!
This piece will be the back of the church. I left a large hole near the bottom of it so I can put in a light for the stained-glass windows later. The design in the book didn't have any holes for a light. Mine will, though. I've deviated from the official pattern here! I'm going rouge!
The side walls would be the most time-consuming part to create. The stained-glass windows are rather elaborate, and cutting them out took quite a long time. (I did two of these pieces--identically in every way, one for each side of the church.) The other pieces I put on parchment paper when I baked, but my book suggested aluminum foil for the stained-glass windows because the windows wouldn't stick to the foil.
In this photo, the side pieces are done being cut out. I'll bake them for 2/3rds of the required time, then fill the holes with hard candies and bake it the rest of the time it needs. Before I started baking, though, I pounded Lifesavers and Jolly Ranchers with a hammer and turned them into crushed bits that I could fit into the windows. Different colors depending on the color each window would be.
The first stained-glass windows are done! They look great! I put my crushed candies into color-coded cups then used a toothpick to put the colors I wanted in each of the window holes. This took a lot longer than I ever imagined! After I melted the candy, it flattened out and got too thin, so I had to add more candy on top of it a second time and bake it some more. This one wall, in all, probably took me three hours to create! (The other side wall took another three hours of work!)
The photo kind of sucks, but it was 2:00 in the morning when I finished and I couldn't get good lighting on it. On the left window, it's of stars and the moon. The middle window has a sunset. And the right window has a large tree.
And by 2:00 in the morning, I was exhausted and went to sleep. A good, productive first day on the job, though! =)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Day 18: The End of a Trail!

July 22: I woke up early. Not only did I have 30 miles I needed to get done, but I had camped where it was probably illegal and wasn't especially well-hidden. It was best to get a move on before anyone came out for a walk or bike ride along the trail. So, I was on the trail and hiking by 6:30.

Dawn over the Youghiogheny River
The weather forecast called for hot and humid weather, but the morning was rather pleasant. It was overcast and some of the clouds even looked like they had the potential for rain, but rain was not in the forecast. I'd take the cool weather as long as it would last.

Within a few miles, I was clearly walking through the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Any resemblance to following an old railroad bed stopped near McKeesport. Now the trail was just following whatever path it wanted through civilization.

But it was late in the morning, passing through McKeesport, when I first heard thunder. BOOM! Although the weather forecast didn't call for rain, I was growing more and more skeptical of that forecast with each passing minute. It hadn't really been all that reliable this whole trip--I don't know why I put so much faith into them. But come on, a 0% chance of rain means ZERO PERCENT! It should be an absolute certainty!

The trail crossed over the Youghiogheny River going into McKeesport, then mostly followed the riverbank to where the Youghiogheny River dumped into the Monongahela River. I was glad I wouldn't have to write Youghiogheny in my journal anymore, but Monongahela wasn't much better. Can't they name their rivers something easy to spell?

A few minutes later, a torrential downpour struck. Buckets of rain fell from the sky. I quickly threw a trash bag over my pack and pulled out my umbrella, but they were feeble defenses against the onslaught. A flash of lightning lit up the sky. BOOM! Zero percent my ass. BOOM!

The trail soon led out of McKeesport over a pedestrian-only bridge that crossed the Monongahela River. As the lightning crackled overhead, I wondered if it was considered safe to cross the bridge. Seems like it should have lightning rods and other safety options. But even then, I still felt awfully exposed at just the thought of walking out on that bridge. I'd be near a high point in a lightning storm.

I hurried across anyhow, hoping if the bridge were struck by lightning, it had been engineered to not kill anyone walking across it. *fingers crossed, but walking quickly*

The rain stopped after a half hour or so, and I put my umbrella away. It didn't take long for the clouds to blow off and the heat and humidity to start ramping up. And, oh! The humidity! I could see the steam rising off the now-paved trail. The humidity might have been high most of the week, but I was certain it had to have exceeded 100% today. It was awful--some of the worst I'd ever experienced.

But I pushed onward. I was going to reach the end of the trail or die trying.

The trail into Pittsburgh I found surprisingly disappointing. It largely followed alongside rivers, which I liked, but the trees often obscured the views. The trail then followed by some railroad tracks, past an amusement park. I couldn't tell if the amusement part was open or not. The rides didn't seem to be going, but then I saw a roller coaster with nobody on it go down the track. Were they testing it before the gates opened for the day? Had they closed the roller coasters during the lightning storm for safety reasons, and were just about to restart it? I didn't know, and I didn't hang around to find out. I still had a trail to finish!

About 10 minutes after the rain stopped, I almost ran over a snake with my stroller. I don't have particularly good visibility of the ground just in front of the stroller and happened to notice the snake coming out of the grass to my right when I was all of about 3 more steps from running it over with my stroller. That would have pissed off the snake, I'm certain! I doubt it would have killed the snake--I didn't think my stroller was that heavy, but I felt it's probably best not to piss off snakes in general, and running them over with a stroller would have been a sure-fire way to piss off the snake. I backed up away from the snake, took some photos, then watched it slither across the trail to the other side before disappearing into the grass on the left.

In Homestead, I took a lunch break where the Battle of Homestead took place on July 6, 1892. It was a critically important conflict between industrialists and organized labor that ultimately cost ten lives. I was in steel country now and evidence of the steel industry could be seen everywhere. What fascinated me most was that I was completely surprised by Homestead. I'd heard of the labor unrest at Homestead before, but for some reason always assumed it was near Chicago. I was a little surprised to realize that Homestead was actually outside of Pittsburgh and that I'd be walking right through it.

Late in the day, the trail crossed over the Monongahela River--again--on the Hot Metal Bridge. That's not a euphemism--it's the actual name of the bridge. An unimaginative name, perhaps, but I rather liked the brutal honesty of the bridge because it was definitely hot, definitely metal and definitely a bridge. When Pittsburgh calls a bridge the Hot Metal Bridge, they mean it!

Lots of rabbits on the trail!
But they're awfully hard to get good photos of....
The pedestrian area of the bridge was quite wide and spacious, and there were maybe a total of five people on the other bridge. Hardly crowded, but that didn't stop a bicyclist from yelling me for pushing my stroller on the wrong side of the sidewalk. I wanted to be by the water to take photos and there was probably ten feet of space for the guy to go around. I'd be a little more understanding if the pathway was crowded with bicyclists and pedestrians and a little more order was necessary, but sheesh! If five people can't figure out how to get around each other on a ten-foot wide sidewalk 1000-feet long without hitting each other.... Well, I'm glad that the bicyclist had such a great life that that was his biggest complaint in life.

After crossing on the Hot Metal Bridge, the trail soon ducked into the center divider of the Penn Lincoln Parkway. This section of trail was bad. Heavy traffic on both sides, and no trees or anything to provide shade against the brutal sun. I'd already hiked well over 20 miles and I was exhausted. My feet throbbed, and bicyclists had come out with an intensity that surprised me. There were a lot of them, presumably getting off work from downtown Pittsburgh. I was wondering what the chances of bumping into Joel would be--the guy I met on the trail a few days earlier who said he'd keep his eyes open for me while biking to or from work in Pittsburgh. It seemed like a long-shot at the time, but this was the time when people would be getting off work and it was a Friday--a work day. It might actually happen!

And a few minutes later, it did! One of the countless bicyclists stopped suddenly. "Ryan!"


It was kind of nice seeing a familiar face, although we hadn't talked for more than about 10 or 15 minutes in total before.

He said he recognized me from the stroller. I said I recognized him after he said, "Ryan!"

I said that he could still have the stroller if he wanted it. I could carry my pack the rest of the way--I figured I only had an hour or so left to the end of the trail. Free stroller! But he wasn't interested....

We chatted for a few minutes before we went on our separate ways again.

Getting closer into Pittsburgh helped in the sense that there were more bridges, and thus more opportunities to stop in the shade for a quick rest. My water, at this point, tasted like crap having warmed up to the outside air temperature which I felt like it was at least a 100 degrees--although I recognized that it probably wasn't that hot. Just the humidity making it feel that hot.

Eventually the trail stopped being a trail and started following city streets, at which point I had difficulty following the trail. It wasn't actually marked so far as I could tell. But I knew it basically followed the Monogahela River until it merged with the Allegheny River and become the Ohio River at Point State Park. So mostly, I just followed the river's edge as closely as I could on my way through Pittsburgh.

And late in the afternoon, I officially reached the end of the trail. There was no monument or marker to mark the end of the trail--at least none that I could find--although there was a large fountain of water where the Monogahela River merged into the Ohio River--and thank goodness--I could spell Ohio with my eyes closed. Now that's a good name for a river! =)

Point State Park was built by Fort Duquesne, and a part of me wanted to explore the fort and museum about it, but I was so tired and exhausted. I was done. So done. Thirty miles! Through torrential downpours, thunder, lightning, heat and humidity... I was so done.

Now I needed to get to the hotel by the airport. Instead of trying to figure it out on my own, I called the hotel directly and asked how I could get there. I kind of hoped they had some sort of shuttle that they used to take guests downtown and therefore, pick them up again, but no. They did have a shuttle that could pick guests up from the airport, but that didn't do me any good because I wasn't at the airport. They suggested that I could take a bus to the airport, then they could pick me up.

"Is there some way I could cut out the airport completely?" I asked. "There's nothing there I really need at the moment. I'd rather just go to the hotel directly! I just finished walking from Washington to downtown Pittsburgh, and I'm tired and just want to be done."

Apparently not many of their guests walked in from Washington, but she said that there was a route, the G3, also known as the Moon Flyer, that could take me from downtown to a stop located about a block away from the hotel. Perfect! I'll take it!

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd prefer if my toilet paper
didn't wink at me....
I walked over to where she told me the bus stop was located, where a bunch of other people were also waiting for some bus or another. It looked like a busy stop with lots of people standing around, so I was somewhat surprised when an approaching bus slowed down but then didn't stop and kept going. A couple of people waiting by the curb started shouting and waving their hands around in an attempt to get the bus to stop.

When it happened a second time, I thought wow! You have to be really aggressive to get these buses to stop for you!

Neither of those buses were the Moon Flyer, and I hoped that one of the other people standing around would also be taking the same bus I was because I didn't really want to stand around shouting and waving my hands around to get my bus to stop. Let a local do it. =)

I asked a local how much the bus cost, and he told me $2.50. I only had one quarter in change, though, and asked if he had enough extra quarters to break a one dollar bill. He didn't, but gave me a quarter instead. Thank you!

My benefactor got on the next bus that stopped--again, not the Moon Flyer--while I hung back waiting for my turn.

I finally saw my bus approaching, but nobody else around me seemed at all interested in it. Damn. I'd have to get him to stop myself. I didn't shout--I figured the bus driver wouldn't hear me shouting, but as the bus approached, I stood out on the curb and waved my hand frantically, and the bus came to a screeching halt. It worked! =)

The bus driver looked at me like I was a crazy person who I picked up my stroller with my pack still in it and lifted it into the bus. The driver didn't say anything about the stroller, but he did tell me that it cost $3.75. What?! My buddy told me it was only $2.50! Obviously, my buddy wasn't going to the same place I was. And despite the quarter he gave me, I was still one quarter short of being able to pay $0.75. Shoot. I reluctantly paid $4.00--glad I had 4 ones rather than having to rely paying the fair with a five or ten dollar bill. If the Pittsburgh transit system was anything like our Seattle system, they're probably perpetually underfunded anyhow. They could probably use the extra quarter.

Well hello to you too, Molly and Dolly!
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the bus was non-stop. I was also surprised that the airport was a heck of a lot further away than I had realized taking nearly a half hour to arrive. I was glad it was non-stop. If it stopped every few minutes along the way to drop off people or let them on, the ride would have taken hours!

I followed the buses progress on my smartphone. I may not use it often, but they can be handy at times! I told the bus driver that I wasn't from around here hoping he could point me in the correct direction when I got off the bus. But that turned out not to be necessary because I saw my hotel about a block ahead just before the bus turned off the road and let everyone out a block off the main road. Sweet! The hotel was a mere two blocks away.

The driver told me to go ahead stay on. He had to drive up to the main road anyhow and would let me off a block away from the hotel instead of two blocks. "Everyone else on the bus is transferring to another bus," he explained, which is why they all needed to get off at that stop. That was nice of him!

I walked into the lobby of America's Best Value Inn and checked in. The woman at the front desk was kind and gracious, asking if I was the person who had called earlier that had walked in from Washington. Yes, that was me. *nodding*

She offered me a cold bottle of water, which I gratefully accepted. Sweet, cold water! I guzzled it down immediately and asked if there was anywhere nearby where I could get dinner. "Very close," I told her. "I really don't want to walk far for it!" She pointed out a couple of places within a couple of blocks away, and also suggested that I could order pizza delivered if I didn't walk anymore.

Delivery?! OMG! I never thought of that! I never get stuff delivered unless it comes through the post office or UPS! Food delivery, though? Brilliant! =)

She gave me a second room floor, which I assured her wasn't a problem, but I picked up the stroller with my bag in it and carried it to the top of the staircase.

Bridge over the Youghiogheny River at Boston, PA.
Ultimately, I decided I'd walk out for dinner. I didn't want to wait for delivery, and there was a Wendy's located less than a five minute walk away. And I could get a large Coke--supersize it!--then get a refill before I left. I knew I was badly dehydrated after today. And maybe Coke isn't ideal for rehydrating, but it was wonderfully cold and refreshing after today's hike. I deserved it!

Then I headed back to the hotel for the night. I took a shower and cleaned up, and unpacked my backpack letting some of the stuff that got wet from the rain earlier in the day dry out overnight.

And that was that. The end of my hike. The next morning, I'd take the hotel shuttle to the airport and fly back to Seattle. What happened to the stroller, you ask? I left it at the hotel. I didn't have use for it anymore. I kind of hoped they gave it to a visiting guest with a baby who didn't bring a stroller because they're so big and bulky to fly with. Or maybe sold it on Craigslist for $10. =) Or probably, they just threw it in the trash. I don't know and I didn't ask, but it was out of my life.

It took a few more days before the soreness in my palms finally went away as well. =)

I've had numerous people who saw my stroller or seen photos of it assume that my back must have hurt because I needed to lean down a bit to push it, but my back never had a problem--just the palms of my hands. I did lean forward constantly to push the stroller, but there's an equilibrium where when I push the stroller, the stroller pushes back too. Leaning forward in that position without having something pushing back like that probably would have been a lot more painful for my back, but the stroller.... if you ever push a stroller along a long-distance trail, it's the palms of your hands you gotta watch out for. That's the part that will become sore. A stroller with bigger wheels would have been greatly appreciated, though. If there was one thing I did differently, I'd have used a stroller with bigger wheels. Maybe one of those three-wheeled contraptions. =)

Just as long as it cost $10 or less. ;o)

So you might be asking yourself.... now what?! This blog isn't done by a long shot. I was home for barely a week before flying off for my next thru-hike... the John Muir Trail.


I'm going to detour for a little holiday festivities before getting into that. In any case.... it's the end of the trail, but nowhere near to being the end of this blog. Keep checking in! =)

Just look at all those pipes! It's kind of hypnotic....
You can tell you're getting into civilization at this point. More industrial areas, less trees and solitude!
The bridge over the Youghiogheny River entering into McKeesport.
The weather keeps growing increasingly cloudy and ugly all morning....

By the time I left McKeesport crossing over the Monongahela River, the rain was heavy and thunder and lightning filled the skies.
Trash bag has been installed! =)
Hey, look! A place to get out of the rain! There was already a bicyclist there stopped and waiting for the rain to stop.
I had no idea how long the rain would continue and still needed to finish 30 miles, so after a brief pause, I continued on despite the rain.

Snake! Snake! I came within about three steps of accidentally rolling over this snake with the stroller before I saw it and backed up.

Passing an amusement park. Weeee!
You can see the cars of the ride going down that steep slope, but there's nobody in them. Why not?!

This water tower was part of the Homestead Pump House. It provided the pressure for the water distribution system while at the same time regulated flow. It also acted as an emergency water supply for the surrounding mills.
The Battle of Homestead took place here at the Pump House on July 6, 1892.
The Homestead Labyrinth follows the design of a medieval eleven-ring labyrinth.
Grays Bridge
An old gantry crane
Holy smokestacks!
The trail also passed this water park, which was also closed. How could it be closed on such a hot, summer day?!
Well that sounds interesting.... but I never did see any eagles. I don't think it was the right time of year for that.
Support-a-potty? Hahahaha! That just cracks me up. =)
Go, stroller! Go! I will say that the heavy rain cleaned off a lot of the mud and gunk that used to be on the stroller. It helped that we're now on pavement. Which is hard on the feet, but a lot cleaner for the stroller than running it through mud.
Hot Metal Bridge. By name and by nature. =)
View of the Pittsburgh skyline from Hot Metal Bridge.
The interchanges were the only things on this section of trail providing some much needed shade!
I did find this tiny bit of shade that a tree provided. (I also never took off the trash bag after the rain had finally stopped.)
Okay! If you say so!

Cannon in front of the Fort Pitt Museum.

The view from the end of the trail. That's Heinz Field across the Allegheny River.
The stroller made it! All the way from Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh! We were sooo done! =)