loving each other. loving the earth. loving travel

One couple exploring the world, pursuing our passions to enjoy life and live eco-consciously, all while attempting to satiate our wanderlust one day at a time...

30 July, 2012

Come On Baby Light My Fire... Metal Working in Cleveland

Back in June, during our month spent in Cleveland, we picked up a new skill - metal working. We were fortunate enough to receive a free tutorial from some friends there. These women are badass, and yes folks, now so are we. Why? Because we know how to fire, bend, cut, and weld metal. Yep. 

What a cool experience! Welding is a skill we've often wondered about and wanted to try our hand at. So Meagen and Uma were kind enough to take the time to show us and to give us a little project to do. Yes, we actually created something useful. We cut, shaped, and welded a metal ring onto a metal plate so that it can pivot when it is placed on top of another round tool. It is now a part of the shop. Who knew we could do that?! And who knows what we could make in the future?! Here's the step-by-step photo essay.  

First, one must fire the metal by heating it directly with the torch until it's red hot.
This requires glasses because looking right into the flame could damage your eyes. 

Now, it is hot enough to bend. We bent it into a circle and
pounded it with mallets to make it flat around.
 This took several tries to get the perfect diameter. 

Our friend Meagen showing us how it's done! Sawing through the metal...

Ayana went next. It was nerve-wracking and highly invigorating at the same time!

Ruslan cutting through the metal bar. Those flames are real!

Halfway through, Ayana comes back to finish it off,
holding the saw from the bottom instead of the top the second time

Ok, now that we have our piece, the metal ring,
time for some welding instruction from Uma to attach it to the plate.
That little white stick will conduct the electricity to draw the heat between
the metal pieces and weld them together 

Ayana welding!
Ruslan and Ayana went at it back and forth... while Uma patiently watched and re-instructed

Ruslan going at it...

We are happy with ourselves. We have a finished product. Mission accomplished!
Thank you Meagen and Uma for being great teachers!


By the way... 

Metal working is very popular in the San Francisco Bay Area (one of Burning Man's many influences on the culture there), and the work people do is mind-blowing. Here are some metal sculptures photographed in West Oakland back in April. 

(Unfortunately, we don't know the artist(s) that created these, so if anyone does, please let us know so we can give credit!) Update: see comments

28 July, 2012

Minsk Under Water

It was a very nice warm summer evening in Minsk. All of a sudden, dark clouds started to roll in. Strong wind picked up, the whole sky turned black, and rain poured from the heavens. 

Within minutes, streams of running water filled the streets. After about an hour, the levels of water on some streets were reaching heights of 1 to 2 feet. People ran and cars drove on sidewalks in order to avoid the water. One after another, drivers who tried to make it through the streets flooded with water found themselves stuck right in the middle of it. The heavy rain accumulated so much water on the streets that some cars literally started to float like boats. Desperate drivers who got out of their cars in order to try and push them out of the water were waist deep in it and unable to stop their cars from being ruined. 

On that day last week, about ten streets were flooded in different areas of Minsk. The rain eventually subsided, the water level went down, and nobody was hurt. However, unfortunately it is bound to happen again, as it happens every year, due to the short-sighted design of the streets and sewers which are unable to hold this amount of water. We witnessed the same scene on our last visit four years ago as well. We were shaking our heads then too, as we watched the poor drivers trying to maneuver their vehicles across the newly-formed lake in the midst of busy intersection. 

Our Photo of the Day

Belarus National Library, Minsk

This building has a very modern design, especially the hexagonal glass dome on top. It has a nice circular cafe on the top floor with 360 degree views of Minsk and a full menu of food and beverages. You can also go out on the rooftop terrace for a panoramic view of the city. The dome is beautifully lit at night too. What a library!

24 July, 2012

Our Photo of the Day

"мирский замок" - a Belarusian castle

We just visited here the other day. This famous Belarusian jewel built in the 16th Century was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in the year 2000. It embodies Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic architectural styles. It is located in a town 90 kilometers from Minsk called, "Mir" (мир), which means "peace" and is also one of the Russian words for "world". (Isn't that nice that 'peace' and 'world' can be described with the same word?) 

16 July, 2012

Chickens in the City? The Urban Farming Revolution in Cleveland!

The impressive gate at the entrance of Gather 'Round Farm, a group effort

Did you know that Cleveland, Ohio is home to one of the largest urban farming movements in the United States? Well, we've been hearing a lot about it from family there and researching the 'green resurgence', so we thought 'why not check it out ourselves'? 

Gather 'Round Farm on Lorain Ave., growing lots of veggies

While we were visiting Cleveland in June, we decided to volunteer on an urban farm - Gather 'Round Farm on the Near West Side (also known as 'Ohio City'). This farm is particularly special because of the folks who run it, but also because it was created over what used to be an asphalt parking lot. They brought in wood chips and soil, and have been growing lots of food over the past six years. This is a living testament to  the passion and ingenuity of an urban farmer.

We learned and had a lot fun helping out there! We worked on garden maintenance, beautification projects like installing a decorative stone wall and planting flowers, but the most fun was definitely taking care of the chickens! 

Looking for yummy bugs under the stump,
chickens eat all day long! 

There were twelve, from all over the world (who knew you could order chicks in the mail?). Beautiful heritage breed chickens from Belgium, Chile, Spain, Germany, England, the US, and beyond... They are all different sizes and shapes with distinct personalities and preferences, and have a variety of colored feathers. Well their eggs are just as different. Some speckled, some torpedo-shaped, some blue-greenish even ... 

United Nations of eggs, delivered to the neighbor's doorstep

Anyway, it was our pleasure to learn about raising chickens since neither one of us grew up on a farm. Though Ruslan's grandparents in the Belarusian village had some, and pigs too, so he does have some memories with chickens as a child. Who knows? We might want to have some of our own someday. After all, there's nothing like farm fresh eggs. They're delicious! 

Ruslan collecting the eggs from the coop
Store-bought eggs are soaked in bleach to disinfect, but eggshells are permeable so... better to get them as close to the source as possible. In San Francisco, we had an addiction to eggs from Rivendell Farms in Sonoma. We could only get them every few weeks though because they were so popular they sold out within hours on the shelves every time. Normal grocery store eggs don't come anywhere close to the flavor of an egg straight from a healthy pasture-raised chicken! 

Farm fresh eggs for breakfast

This chicken coop is nicer than some homes we've seen for people!
It even needed a building permit!

"Loudy Cloudy" always has
something to say
P.S. If you do ever order chicks in the mail, go with a smaller hatchery, because the larger factory farm ones can be abusive to the chicks (cruelly throwing unwanted ones in a pile to die). We learned this from our pal Meagen, one of the founders of Gather 'Round. She loves her chickens very much! They are never slaughtered for their meat, even though they produce less eggs over time. They are allowed to live out the rest of their years in comfort. Their coop is like a chicken's dream mansion! 

If you are in Cleveland and ever want to stop by the farm to check out what they're growing or visit the chickens, ask for Meagen or Uma. And sign up for their CSA in the Spring or Summer for a delicious monthly box of organic produce! 

The Free Range Farce

The hens at Gather 'Round are truly "Free Range" as opposed to the majority of eggs at the supermarket carrying that label which are only technically "allowed access to the outside" for a short amount of time per day in order to gain the legal right to use that designation. However, since they are raised since they are born inside in the dark, they don't explore to find the way out, so most of them never see the light of day. So-called "Free Range" chickens can also be fed hormones to make them grow larger for more profits, and antibiotics (because they become ill and diseased from the hormones, and the diet of grains and meats they are fed which they wouldn't naturally eat, sometimes including other chickens). 

So sure it helps to look for the word "Organic" to see that their feed is at least free of pesticide grown grains, but this isn't the complete solution to making sure you bring home healthy meat either. The best source is a small farm - as local as you can find it - that raises the hens outside, on the pasture, or at least roaming in a big backyard (for those in urban settings). That way, they get all the nutrients they need from the sun, and all the bugs they dig up, which in turn makes their eggs and their meat a lot more flavorful. You will probably find these healthier meat products at any Health Food Co-op, or a Farmer's Market, but if need be you can request that your local store carries them. Of course, you can also visit 'Whole Paycheck' to find it. You know the place.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to learn more, we highly recommend the eye-opening documentary, The Future of Food. It is a must-see for anyone concerned about where their food comes from, and who wants to learn more about Industrial Agriculture versus smaller scale Organic and Sustainable Farming. It also provides the perspective of American Farmers themselves, and their struggles against Big Ag monsters like Monsanto. This daring unflinching exposé follows the money trail all the way to Washington, D.C. Don't miss it!

More Reading on Cleveland's Urban Agriculture...

"Urban Farming and Lots of It, in Cleveland"

"Hot in Cleveland: New urban farms and gardens"

"Cleveland's for-profit urban gardens are growing"

"Feeding Cleveland: Urban Agriculture"

"Protecting Urban Gardens"

Our Photo of the Day

Just some of our Cleveland family

We had a wonderful time visiting Cleveland in June, and this day was no exception. It was a surprise party for Ayana's Great Great Aunt Helen, who turned 88 (on the left). And this was an organic spontaneous photo with just a portion of the family there. We want to be like Aunt Helen when we grow up! She was the last one dancing...  

10 July, 2012

Had a Blast from Cleveland to NY to Holland to Minsk!

Flying over Belarus, so much forest!

Well, it turns out our new 'layover strategy' was a hit! Super fun, but we needed to catch up on some serious sleep by the time we reached Belarus! To be expected though. Our philosophy is that we have to make the most out of our time with friends and visiting places we don't normally get to, so it's better to keep moving and rest later. Though we did take some naps as needed, and comfortable ones indeed, thanks to our lovely hosts. 

A high fashion David in New York

We had a great time in New York, hosted by our friend who we met and worked with in Guatemala. We spent some time in Brooklyn, visited Williamsburg, and The Highline in the Meatpacking District. Highly recommend you check that out by the way if you haven't yet. Since our last visit there in 2009 when it opened, they now have several excellent food and drink vendors, including Blue Bottle Coffee which hails from San Francisco so we were happy to see that. A great place to spend an afternoon with beautiful views of the city. 

We actually had a little too much fun with our layover. (Darn you Brooklyn for being so inviting!) With the unpredictable timing of the subway, we cut it too short on the way back to the airport and almost missed our connecting flight. Oops! Luckily, the Dutch KLM airline was very helpful and let us get ahead of the security lines. Great experience with them in the sky as well. Impeccable preemptive service, delicious food, very friendly Dutch staff, and really comfortable accommodations. We were even able to study Spanish and Russian on the way for free! 

Amsterdam architecture 

We arrived in Amsterdam feeling very well taken care of, and once we found our way through the wonderful Schipol airport (that even has a Meditation room!), we were met by our Dutch friends. After a stopping for a quick and delicious cappuccino, we were on our way to explore Amsterdam on foot. We went for a lovely stroll through the Vondelpark, walked through the canal streets, made a stop for some local and Belgian beers, and then we left for Rotterdam (Amsterdam's lesser known sister city which is less crowded, less touristy, and wonderful in its own right). It's also where our friends live, and where we proceeded to enjoy first a classic Dutch delicacy, young pickled herring ('haring') with an aged Genever - the original Gin. An insanely delicious combination. Then we had a home-cooked Indian dinner, a fun night of catching up, storytelling, and laughter, and awoke to hand-whipped cappuccinos served at our bedside. Amazing Dutch hospitality as always.

Dutch Genever and a Belgian Beer

A night out in Rotterdam

Even trash receptacles are cool in Rotterdam

We are feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude right now for the friends and family we have and the international hosting we are receiving that is unparalleled. 

We will definitely do this again! The layover times lined up perfectly for the maximum enjoyment of each place (8am to 8pm in New York, and noon to noon in Holland), and our hosts have been fantastic. A key part of our realizing this idea was definitely having friends who would take such good care of us.
If you don't happen to have friends in the layover location of your choice, check out Couchsurfing.org and make new ones! 

Our Dutch friends

07 July, 2012

02 July, 2012

Having Fun with Long Layovers!

Traveling to different places is very exciting. However, having to fly at awkward times, getting stuck in long security lines, possibly getting pulled aside for extra searches or questioning, and waiting out grueling layovers are some of the potential annoyances you learn to deal with.

While some aspects of traveling like traffic on the way to the airport or security lines are beyond our control, long layovers, for example, can actually be made fun and exciting.Generally speaking, unless we can fly direct, we usually try to make our layovers as short as possible. This time, we started looking for tickets to plan our trip to go to Belarus. There are no direct flights to Belarus from the US. Since we couldn't find the cheapest tickets with the shortest possible layovers, we came up with a different strategy. The idea was to still find the cheapest tickets but with the longest possible layovers. It may sound strange. Why would one want to choose the longest possible layover to go anywhere? Sounds exhausting.

The fun part about long layovers is that it allows us the time to get out of the airport, visit a place we have never being before or revisit a place that we love. Layover time can also be used to visit and spend time with family and friends. The benefit of this approach is that you can do all that without paying for an extra ticket to make a separate trip.

If, for example, you choose your layover time to be anywhere between 10 and 24 hours, you can use the time wisely, and you might as well for the same price.So when we booked our flight to Belarus we chose the following:

We will have two layovers. First stop will be for a 15 hours in New York which we will use to visit and have fun with friends.

The Brooklyn Bridge is really fun to walk across!

The second stop will put us for 24 hours in Amsterdam to have more fun with friends whom we have not seen for a long time, before finally arriving to Belarus.

Classic Amsterdam 

From Cleveland to New York to Amsterdam to Minsk... Looking forward to very long layovers has never been more fun and exiting. We can't wait!

A Belarussian Babushka selling sunflower seeds

Steps to our 'long layover strategy':

First, identify the price that you feel comfortable paying for a flight ticket to your final destination.

Second, search for ticket for your destination, and choose a layover in a city or a country of your choice from available options. If your dates are flexible you will have the most options to choose from. 

Third, just decide how much time you want to spend there, and book your multi-city journey!

Happy Travels & Have Fun!