Monday, June 24, 2013

Weekend Trip: Alleghany State Forest

A view of our cabin from the fire pit area
My husband and I spent this weekend just across the PA border at a cabin in Alleghany National Forest. It was a strange and wonderful mix of "luxury" (private outdoor hot tub) and "roughing it" (see below!). The cabin itself was fantastic - outdoor hot tub, elevated deck, fire pit, etc. It was perched on the edge of a downward slope of forest, and you can see we had a large window so that view would be available even in harsher weather (they're open year round).

One thing that wasn't in the travel brochure was that our camp area was home to over a dozen black bears who weren't particularly fussed about being close to people. We had several scares as we would turn around and accidentally start a staring contest with a bear about 20 ft away. They are SILENT until a twig snaps or you turn your head!

The best bear photo I managed to get
On the plus side, I now know that some candidates for my last words in a startling situation include "Oh sh**!" and "That's a bear that's a bear that's a bear that's a BEAR!" At least I will have no trouble identifying the immanent mauler. It's times like those you ask yourself the tough questions, like, does my car insurance cover bear damage? Jokes aside, they were very docile; they just gave us several adrenaline spikes throughout the weekend as they shuffled by us unexpectedly.

We spent most of Saturday hiking through the forest, and it was beautiful! There seemed to be a lot to do in the forest and surrounding area. Route 6, running through the forest, was rated "one of America's most scenic drives" by National Geographic ( I know we will definitely be back to check that out. I think we just found a new summer tradition.

Part of our path through the woods

Our favorite part of the forest - beautiful and surreal

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I Thee Wed

A few weeks ago my husband and I attended a wedding--my friend's nephew's wedding, to be precise.  I was tasked with capturing all the important moments on video, so I don't have many pictures.

Bride and groom sitting at the altar
A. and K., the couple getting hitched, had been introduced through family while living in different countries (US and Canada). They talked over Skype and went through elaborate dating games to discover if they would make a good match. This is the typical Bhutanese Nepali courtship ritual nowadays. Not too different than before, just with Apple Facetime often replacing real face time throughout the diaspora. A. flew down from Canada for the wedding, and after a few days they flew back to Canada to start their new life together. 

The priests, guests of honor, and the altar
As members of the groom's party, we joined a caravan to the bride's house. We had to wait on the sidewalk at first until we were allowed to approach. This was the first of several stages in the ceremony. Others included both parents giving away the bride by pouring water over the couple's hands, the bride and groom circling the altar three times holding each end of a knotted rope, reading of vows and chants, and the groom putting the "potay" necklace on the bride. The symbolic necklace is always forest green (the color worn by married women) and is worn by married women at all times while their husband is alive, then destroyed upon his death. 

Part of the ceremony was conducted on the front porch
The longest part of the ceremony was the "receiving line" where all the guests approach the seated couple and put tikka on their forehead as a blessing. All the guests get tikka on their forehead, too, just not as much. I forgot to take mine off until we got home, so I probably surprised our Elmwood Village neighbors walking in from the car. I also wondered about the reactions of the bride's neighbors on the Westside (Hoyt St). On one side of the house the neighbors were chilling on their porch like this sort of thing happened every day, while across the street the whole family was peering out their front window through the curtains. 

Guests greeting the bride
We somehow managed to get away having only been fed enormous amounts of delicious Nepali food twice. I loved being able to participate in the ceremony and share in the joy of the couple and their family. I am so lucky to have friends who are not only jewels themselves, they also share experiences like this with me. I hadn't found an extended community for myself until I was unofficially adopted into the Nepali community here in Buffalo, where I feel right at home. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ignore the weather forecast

Last weekend, the weather was dreary. I stayed home instead of doing the things I had planned, and regretted it. So, facing a second weekend of dreary weather, I headed out armed with my umbrella and sneakers. I didn't get many pictures because my camera was almost out of battery, of course.

Aung and Mustafa, entrepreneurs
First stop was my very favorite intersection in Buffalo: Grant and Lafayette. That was where I first fell in love with the city, and going back always feels like coming home.

My friend Aung had the Grand Opening for his new store, IT Garden, so I went to see his new place. He had opened up the back of the store and there were over 30 people back there eating and talking. Immediately I had plates full of Burmese food and a rotation of lovely people to talk to. I'm glad to see him open and wish him luck!

Freddy J's: the outside belies the inside
I took some Burmese food across the street to Joe, who owns West Side Stories and works with me at Journey's End. I've been stopping by his store to bug him every so often since he opened in 2011. He introduced me to Kathy, who owns the building next store, and and she gave me a tour of the incredible things she's doing with the interior.

Kathy then introduced me to the guys at Freddy J's BBQ, and I spent some time with them while the chefs proved to me that they have a few great vegetarian options like mac and cheese. I was totally unprepared for how great the inside looked, and highly recommend their sit-in-and-chat-with-the-chefs option!

I had to park several blocks away from the Allen St Art Festival, which was great since I walked down some side streets I haven't before and got to enjoy the unique houses and gardens on the way. There was good attendance despite the clouds, and the Bubble Man was in action. I bought some fantastic Buffalo stuff (Buffaloot?) which I have been wanting for ages: a shirt, a poster, and a pair of earrings! They had plenty of Buffalove items and it was hard to choose my favorites.

Allentown Art Fest 2013
Today reinforced for me that I'm happiest exploring, meeting new people, and maintaining connections to people and places. It's too easy to look at the clouds outside, think of everything I have to do, and stay at home. I'm glad I didn't do that today.

Five Points

Whole wheat cinnamon bun & iced coffee
Two weeks ago I checked off a very specific item on my bucket list. I had been to Five Points Bakery, and its neighbor Urban Roots, several times. Everyone kept saying, though, that I had to have one of their cinnamon buns, and by the time I ever made it over there they were sold out for the day. It seemed too small a thing to drive half an hour for early on a weekend morning, so I went more than 3 years periodically thinking "I should try that."

The first weekend after we moved, I vowed to hunt down the elusive cinnamon bun. My trip to the bakery now takes about 4 minutes by car...a dangerous development for my wallet. I ordered a famous cinnamon bun and iced coffee, and sat down to read Edible Buffalo and soak in the atmosphere. The cinnamon bun was definitely fantastic, but a lot smaller than I had pictured. 

The view from my seat
A few days before my visit, Five Points had won "Best Bakery" in the write-in "Best of Buffalo" Artvoice contest. They have won that award every year since they opened four years ago, despite there being plenty of good bakeries in Buffalo (they got my vote!). 

It's easy to see why - they are committed to local and ethical practices and are doing great things in the neighborhood, all while making fantastic bread and treats. They are also technically a "Toast Cafe" - they have fantastic meals of creative toppings on toast. That will have to wait for another trip.

Recycling station at Urban Roots
I happened to need some larger pots to re-pot my windowsill herbs into, so I stopped by Urban Roots after I was finished. They have a fantastic recycling program where they put any discarded pots into a bin and anyone is able to come and take whatever they need. 

It's especially helpful for the refugees making the lower Westside their home, and has allowed them to easily share cuttings of traditional plants with each other. When I was leading a garden project with clients last year, we took a trip to Urban Roots to get our supplies and the plants that we weren't growing from seed.

Marigold & blue lobelia, in a recycled pot

I spent a long while that day wandering through their plants out back and picking out a few to bring home. Their space is lush and colorful, enhanced by metal sculptures and creative decorating.

I ended up choosing a marigold because, as an unofficially-adopted Nepali sister, my home wouldn't be complete without one. I also picked some lobelia for the contrasting color and in homage to a past obsession of mine. Points to you if you know which great work of English literature from the 20th century involves lobelia.

This trip was the ideal way to start my day, and I'm so happy to be in a place that makes it easy to do. I feel like I have already done more in three weeks of living in the city limits than I did in three years of living out in Amherst.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

And so it begins...

I moved to Buffalo with my husband in the summer of 2009 expecting to hate living here. I don't like cold weather and I've been most happy living in big, exciting cities like London. Even though I expected to leave after 4 years of grad school, I decided to learn everything I could about my new hometown.

By getting involved with nonprofits I saw one of the city's best sides. Now I work full time as the Volunteer Manager at Journey's End Refugee Services, and I get to connect people to rewarding experiences every day. Through my experiences with work and friends over the last few years I have come to adore Buffalo and I am staying in the Queen City.

I was inspired to start this site because I was gearing up for summer by gathering information about free and cheap things to do, and ended up with almost 300 things on my list. I thought there must be other people in Buffalo who also need to make the most of their "entertainment" budget and would get out and do things more if it were easy to find the information.

The content will follow my personal interests and I'll write a post when I do one of the things on the list. I plan on posting a lot this summer and then less so once fall starts. I'm not sure where the site will go from here, but I want two things for it: I hope that because of it my fellow Buffalonians will enjoy our city more, and that non-Buffalonians will see a vibrant side of Buffalo that is too rarely in the media.

Buffalo is not the city it was even ten years ago, and I'm honored to know some of the people and organizations making it such a dynamic and beautiful place. I believe it's important to make your community truly your own by working for the results you want: whether by volunteering for a nonprofit or by celebrating the work of others who care about Buffalo. Learn, invest, explore. Enjoy Buffalo.