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Cheap Ohio Getaways: Athens, OH day two

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After a comfortable nights sleep at our cheap hotel, Budget Host, we breakfasted in our room with supplies brought from home and planed out our day. We wanted to take a train ride in Nelsonville, a small town a few miles northeast of Athens, and also check out a portion of the huge Wayne National Park Forest, which was also nearby. The train offered two rides, a hour and a half trip and a 2 hour, we thought the shorter would be better for our time constraints. The train, at $12 each, would depart at noon, and by the time we got our stuff packed and on the road it was 11:30, tight but doable. However here is where MapQuest totally let us down. I don’t know about you, but it seems like every trip I take about 1 out of 4 directions from MapQuest is completely wrong. There directions said take 33 north out of Athens to Nelsonville, then look for Canal st on the left, if you saw Monroe st you went to far. Well we went through Nelsonville without seeing any Canal st, after about 4 miles we turned around and went back and still no Canal, but gee there is a huge train behind Rocky outlet store which we couldn’t see well coming from the south. We later found out that 33 is Canal st in Nelsonville, there is no left turn, you just look left. This mucking about left us with only minutes to spare, so while Lee parked I ran in and bought tickets and we just made it. We were both surprised at the scale of this operation, they had about half a dozen or more cars, two double deckers and hundreds of people on board. This was billed as a ‘Fall Foliage’ trip, so that probably explained the crowd, but unfortunately the actual trip was not what I’d call scenic. First they go north for about 20 minutes, through sad trailer parks and shack like housing, past a wood pallet mill, and then end at a gravel pit. The only slightly scenic bit was when you go through a small steel bridge over a creek. Then they reverse direction and backtrack, through those lovely houses again, then past the small non de-script  campus of Hocking College, and end in a small historic village called Robins Crossing. Here they let us out for a bathroom break (port-a pots) and a half an hour to marvel at the quaint old cabins and how people used to live in the 1800′s. I loved the weathered old cabins, and who ever staged the insides with antique furniture, tools and accessories of daily pioneer life did a great job. But the swarms of people jamming into these tiny rooms got in the way of my enjoyment and picture taking, so I wanted to come back after we got of the train to tour it by our selves. On the way back we rode in the top of the double decker, we loved the old chrome and vinyl style, but the elephantine side to side sway was about to trigger motion sickness, luckily it was only minutes back to station.

So would I recommend the train? I am still not sure, it wasn’t what I expected, and I got no scenery shots, but it was a nice novelty and a break from just hiking all day. The tons of cranky bored kids was annoying, they got over the excitement of a train ride in about 10 minutes. Once we got off the train we were hungry, but Lee didn’t want to check out the restaurant in the outlet store, he wanted to get away from this mob, so we went hunting for a Wendy’s, they had chili and bake potatoes that were ok for gluten free needs. So of course there was every fast food chain but them in town, and the town was heavy with traffic. What were all these people doing in this tiny burg? I suggested he get a salad from McDonalds, but I wanted to go to Sonic, which was pushing his patience . He let me get my stuff at Sonic, but when we got to McDonalds the line was so long he couldn’t stand it, and decided to just eat the lunch meat wraps he had in the cooler for the third time. I sympathized with his frustration, you just can’t imagine how hard it is eating gluten free, and travel is the worst. He almost broke down and ate a chili dog at Sonic, but he stayed clean and braved the tired old lunch meat. By this point we had driven back south on 33 to the pioneer village where he parked and ate, I left to go take pics, not like I could make him feel better about his lunch, and the quicker I got my pics the sooner we could get to hiking.

I was glad I went back, the low golden afternoon light lit the interiors beautifully. I couldn’t get enough of the weathered woods, well worn antiques, and the cool tools like spinning wheels, cast iron stoves and more. I couldn’t have set the scene better if I tried.

There were a variety of buildings including a meeting house and a blacksmith, they also had people here to add to the experience. There were guys in the forge working on stuff, candy and little handmade items being sold in general store and on porches. All in all I really enjoyed this stop, once  the crowd was gone, I could have spent more time here but the day was waning and it was time to head further south on 33 to the visitors center for Wayne National Forest. We had passed this visitors center on or way into town, it had a beautiful building with extensive solar panels that caught my eye. But when we got there they were closed! What kinda of park office is closed on a saturday, not like anyone goes to parks on the weekend! They didn’t even have a map you could pick up. Well we consulted one of the maps that came in the magazines from the hotel, and since it was already 3 p.m. we picked something close to try. Just north of Nelsonville was a short loop of road, 278, which went through one section of the park, and then came back to 33. Off the loop we saw a trail called Ora Anderson Memorial Trail, this short trail followed an old rail line through what was now a swamp. Interesting but somehow also ugly, but it was nice and flat and we were getting tired so it was ok. I feel bad we didn’t get to see more of the huge National park, we will have to come back and explore more of it, but it was 4 p.m. and we had a 3 hr plus drive ahead of us. Since we were already heading northwest on 33, we decided to take a different route home, one that went through Logan and then followed the way we usually went home from Hocking Hills State park. If you look at a map of this area you will see there are no straight ways to go west. You could stay on 33 north to Columbus, the take 71 south to Cincinnati, but we liked the scenic two lane way we usually took. This left 33 at Logan, went south on 180 which wound through lovely rolling hills and picturesque farms, then followed 56 all the way to 71 south. This way take you through Laurelville, where we always try to stop for local cider in the fall, yum! If the cider company is closed there are other small pumpkin stands and stores that you can stop at on the way and find their cider. The place we stopped at outside of Circleville had hot air balloons landing next to it. Going through Circleville we were shocked at the huge swarms of people, seems their Pumpkin Festival that was going on draws 400,000 visitors! We spent 15 minutes trying to go around the town, cars coming in were backed up for miles. I can’t imagine any small town festival that would get me to put up with that kind of mob, but clearly other don’t agree. Once we got past that mess it was smooth driving through miles of flat farmland gorgeously lit in the late afternoon light. I spent the whole time trying to capture some of that by taking pictures from the car window, something that has never worked for me but I keep trying. I think I did get some interesting shots this time.

For more great pics from this trip, check out my website, you can even buy custom prints there. All in all we spent $24 on the train, $70 on the hotel, only $40 on food do to hardly eating out, and about $35 in gas, for a total getaway cost of $170. It was a very enjoyable trip despite a few bumps, and I think we will definitely be going back.

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Cheap Ohio getaways: Athens Ohio

Dow Lake at Strouds Run State park in Athens C...

Image via Wikipedia

This October when the traveling bug hit us, I once again turned to my handy guide-book, Where to weekend around Ohio, and thought we’d give Athens Ohio a try. The area is surrounded by a number of parks and a large National Forest. This meant plenty of our favorite cheap entertainment, hiking and general enjoyment of nature, which in the end of October should be the height of leaf color. One nights hotel stay was all we could afford so the fact that this spot was about 3 hours from Cincinnati also played into the decision. I did my usual internet search for hotels a few weeks ahead of time and saw a number of places for around $50-60, so it looked like lodging would be no problem. However when I got around to actually booking a room the $50 ones were actually in Pennsylvania, which is NOT close to this area, and the best I could do was Budget Host for $70.

That friday we got up early (early for us) and hit the road about 9:30 and headed out of Cincinnati on 32. This windy two lane, called the Appalachian Highway, would take us all the way to Athens with scenic views along the way. We had just had two days of nonstop wind, rain and low temps, but the weather said despite overcast skies we should be dry with sunny weather on saturday. This proved to be true, and while only in the 50′s, we had no troubles with weather. I always forget Mapquest times don’t count bathroom breaks, traffic, or anything else, so it actually took us 3 1/2 hours to get to Athens. The leaves were quite dull this year, just burnt brown and ocher, so I didn’t get any good pics of foliage.

We arrived at town very hungry and made a beeline to the Ohio University campus where eateries abound. With Lee’s celiac we were very limited with what he could eat, but online I had seen two likely restaurants to try. The one we wanted for lunch was called Casa Nueva, their menu specifically said ‘ask about our gluten-free options’. However when we got there at about 1 pm they had a 20 minute wait despite half the tables being empty, we were to hungry for that nonsense and decided to hoof it to the Chipotle we had seen a few block back. Like most college towns Athens has an area just off campus that’s packed with bars, a variety of cheap eats, and other funky shops. Having lived in Bloomington IN for about 10 years we felt right at home in this free-flowing youthful area, though we realized that us oldsters were very outnumbered. That’s ok, we can dig it. A quick lunch then back to our hotel, which we had passed on the way into town, then decide what to do with the afternoon. The Budget Host Coach Inn was perched within 100 ft of the 6 lane highway, but we had no real problems with noise, and the beds in our room were actually comfortable! We had gotten so used to the hotel beds being rocks that we always bring a mattress topper, but didn’t need it here. The hotel was old, and the decor clearly showed it, but it was clean, quiet (except highway noise) and everything worked like it should, so we were content.

After consulting our various guide books, maps and visitor info we decided to go for a hike in the nearest area, Strouds Run State Park, which was about 7 miles southeast of town off of 33. Once off the highway you end up on a tiny road following the top of a very narrow windy ridge, you see plunging meadows and ravines out of both side of the car. After you start wondering ‘were are we and where is this place’, you finally find it. The signs led us to a lake with beach and boat ramps but, we didn’t see any information on trails so decided to just pick one of the trail heads we saw and see where it took us. The first sign we saw was for a trail called Sunset trail, the bit we followed zigzagged up the ridge and along the lake. The hill was studded with large rocks covered in bright green moss, ferns and tree roots. Just the way I like it! None of the online sites bothered to tell you anything about any of the parks landscape, so we were pleased at the interesting scenery we found. We hiked about an hour or so, we didn’t know how far the trail went, so we just left it at a point that was next to the beach, and look there’s the map of the trails! This park is just filled with trails, trails we had no time to see. Maybe next time.

Back to the hotel for a shower and a bit of lie down before going to the other restaurant we hoped would work for us, Salaam. Their menu showed a number of tasty sounding kabobs which we hope with rice would be safe for Lee to eat. Unfortunately I suddenly got a terrible headache and was very nauseous, and was incapacitated for hours. Lee ended up eating some of the back up food he brought, and later when I felt better we went back to campus so I could grab some late night snack. After being fortified with a pita we wandered about the streets, it was friday and the students were in party mode. We took a number of pics of the funky neon fun, we were totally in love with the train car dinner, with its neon, glass blocks, and steel exterior.


We made a brief attempt to have a drink at one of the bars, I couldn’t stand the hip hop for long, but we still felt jazzed by the night. The boys who setup their laptops in the niche next to a bank for an electronic street jam were especially entertaining, even if they weren’t attracting any girls. Whew! Midnight, late for us middle agers, time to sleep, tomorrow we plan to take a historic train and see the sights in Wayne National Forest. But this post is already long, I do go on, so I’ll save the next days details for my next post.

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Learn the secrets to a ‘No work’ garden


Image via Wikipedia

With fall upon us I have hardly been thinking about my garden, once the flowers have finished blooming and the veggies are done the fun is over for me. But today I found an article about gardening with some great tips that I plan to try and I think you’ll be interested in too. The post comes from a blog called Eartheasy and in it they give you five easy tips to minimize the work you do in the garden, and maximize the results. I was especially interested in the tip of watering only with soaker hoses. The claim is that watering by hand with spray or sprinklers is not only a hassle (boy is it!), it also is delivering to much water to fast, which produces run off and also waters nearby weeds. With the soaker hoses laid near base of plants you get slow steady delivery of water right to the plants. This consistency produces better plants and harvest, and has the bonus of drying out weeds and reducing their growth. Since I built my rain barrel I’ve been thinking its time to try a drip irrigation system, so I think next year I give it a try. I am also reminded that I heard about how cotton growers in the middle east are being encouraged to switch to drip irrigation for the same reasons. Water is a vital resource that is diminishing in some areas, learning new ways to use it can help everyone.

You can read the full post here,  5 Secrets to a ‘No work’ garden


Wow I love the above photo, sure puts my hill billy concrete block bed to shame! Maybe next year I can put my concrete skills to the test and try to make something like this.

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Crafty makeover of Ikea shelf

With the sales of my paintings and photographs being so infrequent, I did some brainstorming to come up with new marketable product I could produce. I decided to use my various skills as artist, crafter, designer, decorator and long time retail slave to design home furnishings. In the past I have refurbished furniture to resell and did ok with that, but now I want to really put a strong art vibe into the work. I want to create one of a kind pieces, things with bold color, unexpected shapes and textures, things that make you go ‘wow I’ve never seen anything like that before!’  Many of the furniture will be used or damaged items I will redesign and revamp. But of course I have to try to do it with little up front costs, at least until I see if my stuff will sell, and that is what always seems to kill my ideas. Usually I try to make one thing, as cheap as possible, then sell it so I can make more, and that never seems to work. So this time I am trying to think bigger (but still cheap), and I am going to get a group of pieces that work together before I try to sell it. I think they will display better this way, give the customers a chance to see what they can do with these unusual items and how great they can look. Maybe some one would even buy the group. But first I have to make them!

I debated on if it was a good idea to tell people how I was making my stuff if I was trying to sell it, but I figure to DIY people aren’t the people who would buy my stuff anyway, so here’s my first project. I went to Ikea to dig through the As Is department for ideas, there I picked up this small dented Lack shelf for 50 cents.


Lack shelves are designed to hang with no brackets, this small one just hooks over two nails to mount.  My idea for this piece was to do something different and cover it with fabric for a soft, hand crafted look. I decided that cream felt and fuzzy thick black yarn would give it a classic yet whimsical look.  So I bought some felt, yarn, buttons (for accent), and large needle to sew it. The felt was really cheap, 2 bucks for a half a yard, but the yarn and buttons I was looking at were really adding to the cost of this project. I resisted the fancy funky buttons and got one for a dollar, and the cashier gave me a coupon so I got the yarn for $5. For a one time project the the $10 I spent  made it costly for something I hoped to make a profit on, but for your self its a good deal, and if I make more shelves the overall cost evens out. I think I will make a set of three, though I may have to buy the Lack shelves new if As Is doesn’t happen to have any mark downs, and that will make my cost per shelf $6 for shelf and about  $3 in felt, yarn, and button. With the first shelf being almost free that comes to roughly $20 in cost to make three shelves.  Here’s the first one.

Of course it remains to be seen if I can get someone to buy them for an amount which leaves me with any profit after the store that’s selling them takes a 40% cut. Hmmm, well I have to start somewhere and get my feet wet, the larger pieces should have more profit potential. I have plans to reupholster an old slipper chair we have with great retro lines, and a side table I picked up at Salvation Army. I’ve been surfing the net to find unusual fabrics and found some great shag fur and cool vinyl at at site called Distinctive Fabrics, my mind is frothing with ideas of how to use this stuff. Plans so far for the side table involve a pale aqua alligator vinyl on top, and plummy chocolate color painted over the rest, I can’t wait to see how it looks!

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Easy and delicious tamale pie recipe,with gluten free and vegetarian versions

Red Chili Peppers

Image by Gerard's World via Flickr

Here’s a quick and tasty dish that is versatile enough that you can make in three different ways; vegetarian, gluten free or original. Its low cost humble ingredients really deliver the flavor, and it tastes just as good leftover. I’ll give you the standard version first with tips on how to change it to suit your needs.






For the filing

1/2 cup of chopped onions

two chilies, chopped (or use bell peppers if you want mild)

one small zucchini peeled and cubed

1 cup of corn, canned, frozen or off the cob

1 tblsp of chili powder

1 tblsp of cumin

1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes, or use fresh

1 1/2 cups of jack or cheddar cheese

1/4 cup of chopped cilantro

1 lb of ground turkey, chicken or beef (leave out for vegetarian version)


Heat oven to 450. In a large oven safe skillet (cast iron works great), saute onions, chilies in two tablespoons of olive oil till soft, about 4 minutes. If you’d like to add meat, add ground turkey, chicken or beef at this point and cook till browned. If you want vegetarian skip the meat. Add corn, zucchini and spices, saute for 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, cheese and cilantro and season with salt and pepper.

Now you are ready for your cornbread topping. You can use your favorite cornbread mix, or try this gluten free recipe.

2 cups of yellow or white cornmeal

1/2 cup of boiling water

1 tblsp of sugar

1 tspn of salt

2 tspn of baking powder

1 tspn of baking soda

1 egg

1 1/4 cup of milk or buttermilk

In a medium bowl, stir together 1/2 cup of cornmeal and boiling water to make thick porridge like mix. Set aside. In large bowl, mix together remaining 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder and soda. Beat the egg into the thick porridge like mix, then add milk to make thin batter. Add the liquid batter to the dry mix and mix till smooth, then pour over filing in skillet. Bake in oven till golden brown, about 12-16 minutes.  Serve with salsa, sour cream and guacamole if desired.

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