Archive for the ‘Family Fun’ Category

While the primary purpose of our Adirondack vacation was to get into the mountains and hike, we did other things too!  We specifically decided to make Lake Placid our home base, so we’d have access to water activities and Adirondack town fun.  I’ve always loved Lake Placid Village, and I was looking forward to introducing Steve to its charms (he grew up near here, but randomly had never been).  For our lodgings, we chose an Airbnb right on the lake.  The location was perfect – midway down the main street in town – and you can’t beat that view!  My only complaint was that I wished there was a balcony to sit on after the kids went to bed.  But you can’t have everything.  We had a fabulous sun porch and we enjoyed it all week.

Especially in the mornings!  The kids wake up before the crack of dawn, and I found myself getting up at 5:30 with them every morning and watching the sun come up over the mountains.  Spectacular.

We went out for dinner most nights of the trip, and it was easy to find restaurants – we just walked out the door and wandered along until we hit upon something that looked good.  We checked out the other sights in town along the way.  I always find the library!


Drinks and lunch on the peaceful lakeside deck of The Cottage, just before leaving to head back to Nana and Grandad’s house on our last day.  I’m planning to do a travel guide to Lake Placid with young kiddos in tow, since that was something I never found during my vacation-planning research – not all in one place, and not for the summer, at least.

The Village of Lake Placid is situated on Mirror Lake – Lake Placid itself is just over the road, less than five minutes away – and no matter where you find yourself in town, you will probably catch at least a glimpse of sparkling water.  There’s nothing like a mountain lake, right?

Mirror Lake has a beautiful public beach area, and we found ourselves wandering over there several times during the trip.  The beach has been recently improved – and it was lovely even before the improvements – and the soft sand and shallow waters made for a perfect place to take the little ones.  Nugget, in particular, is a beach boy – Peanut is more of an indoor child and can run lukewarm on the idea of swimming in something that’s not a pool, but Nugget (Pisces!) can’t get enough beaches and water.  Oceans, lakes, he’s not picky.

Peanut enjoyed wading in the shallows, too, and she even did a little swimming.  In general, though, she was happy to dig in the sand.

The beach also provides a couple of launch points for kayaks and paddleboards.  I was hoping to get out on the water a lot – both kayaking and SUPing – but the way the schedule worked out, we were only able to kayak once.  I made it count, though.  Mirror Lake is fairly small, and I paddled end-to-end (and back again) with Steve, then dropped Steve off back at the beach, picked up my mom, and paddled the kayaks back to the Airbnb to leave them on the grassy lakefront area.

Getting ready to launch!

I took Nugget out for a spin with his little paddles.  It wasn’t our most successful ride – we can fit in a single kayak together, but he got strangely afraid once we paddled out past the beach.  He’s never been scared to kayak before, so I don’t know what that was about.  The season is over now, so I guess we will find out next summer if it was a fleeting thing or an off day, or something that is going to continue.

I love paddling with this guy.  (Look at him, so responsible in his life jacket!  I stowed mine.  I couldn’t flip one of these kayaks if I tried – and I’ve tried – and I can swim.)

What’s this on the water?

Just an Adirondack loon.  No big deal.  (!!!!!)  I couldn’t believe how big these birds were, and how much they didn’t care about my kayak.

Steve and I paddled all the way down to the Mirror Lake Inn, one of the fancy expensive hotels in town.  We sent my parents here for their fortieth anniversary and have bought them gift certificates for the past few Christmases.  One of these days, I’ll get to stay here for myself!

Steve and I turned around and headed back to the beach, and I picked up my mom to deliver the kayaks to the Airbnb.  As it turned out, we didn’t make it back out on the water again – my parents did, but we didn’t.  But at least we got out there once!

By the end of the vacation, we were all a little wiped out.  What’s better than a lakeside park for napping?

Next week: the final hike of vacation.  Check in with me then!


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With two stiff parents, still sore from hiking Big Slide the day before, and two kids ages six and under, we were looking for a nice, easy, short shake-out hike on Thursday of our vacation week.  We found one, but apparently we were cursed, because it was the unluckiest hike I’ve ever taken.  Beautiful!  But unlucky.

Backing up – we got a late start in the morning, after sleeping in and then bumming around the Airbnb for awhile (and frankly, longer than I wanted to bum around, but the rest of the family was maddeningly slow-moving).  Plan A was to hike the circumference of Heart Lake, over by the Adirondack Loj.  I’d heard it was a nice, easy, flat trail, and that sounded darn good to me.  But when we arrived at the Loj, we discovered – unlucky event #1 – that all of the hiking trailhead parking lots were full.  (The Loj is the starting point for a great many Adirondack trails, including the trail to Mount Marcy – we had a lot of competition.)  The closest overflow parking was a mile down the road, which was clearly not happening on our post-Big Slide legs and with two generally uncooperative children.  So we moved on to Plan B – Heaven Hill.

I’d wanted to hike Heaven Hill, but was planning to save it for Friday.  No matter – Thursday it was.  We arrived, found parking, and let the kids sit in the trunk of the SUV to eat their snacks.  Don’t mind the underwhelmed expressions on their faces.  They were tickled to have snack back there.  What is it about kids and the trunk of an SUV?  I used to LOVE sitting in the “way way back” of my parents’ Explorer.

Once they finished eating, we hit the trail.  Heaven Hill is a community preserve, owned and operated by a private foundation, so it’s marked and maintained a little differently from the trails and herd paths of the state park.  (Not better or worse – just differently.)  Since it is still the ‘dacks, there are still tree roots, which led to unlucky event #2: Nugget, who was at the time (and is still) going through a running-ahead-of-the-pack phase, tripped over a root and face-planted on the ground.  Ouch.  Poor guy!

A piggyback ride from Dad helped.

Our goal was the Orchard Loop, around a large-ish meadow with gorgeous mountain views.  To get there, we followed the orange “Old Orchard Connector” trail markers.

To distract Nugget from the effects of his fall, I pointed out the sights of the wooded connector trail – including a pretty mushroom growing out of a tree stump.  Finally, we arrived at the meadow, and…

WHAT A VIEW.  I was in awe – it was absolutely breathtaking.

Nugget and I walked up a little ways and checked out the waving grasses and the tall wildflowers, with the incredible mountains all around us.  We made it probably about a quarter to a third of the way around the meadow when unlucky event #3 happened–

PEANUT WAS STUNG BY A BEE.  Apparently the thing about a meadow full of wildflowers is that it’s also full of pollinators.  Yikes.  A bee was buzzing around, very interested in Peanut in particular.  Steve and I were talking her through as we do with the kids – telling her to stand still, don’t make any sudden movements, etc.  The bee landed on her back and we cautiously guided her forward, very slowly, until it flew off into the wildflowers.  Hoping that was the end of it, we continued our hike, but realized quickly that something was wrong, beyond the fear that the bee would come back.  Peanut was complaining about her foot, so we sat her down and took off her shoe and found – a bee sting.  OUCH!  Poor kiddo – it seemed that before it made its way to her back, the bee had gotten stuck in her sandal and had stung her as a warning.  It was a bumblebee, so it didn’t lose its stinger after pricking her.  What a brave kid she was – walking calmly away from the bee even after it had stung her foot.  After a hurried whispered adult conversation, we decided that she didn’t seem to be having an allergic reaction more than the standard human reaction to a bee sting, so the ER was not in order.  We asked her what she wanted to do, and she said she wanted to go get ice cream, so naturally, we went and got ice cream.  Hardcore ninja Peanut gutted it out on her bee sting foot all the way back to the car and was rewarded for her bravery with a BIG scoop from Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery.

Heaven Hill!  You were beautiful, and I’d love to come back some day – but maybe after bumblebee season.

Next week: our final hike of the vacation, along the iconic Ausable River.  Check back! 

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With a whole week to spend in the Adirondacks, it wasn’t a question of will we hike a high peak? but how many high peaks will we summit?  Steve and I are slooooooowly working on the goal of summiting all forty-six high peaks (loosely defined as the Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet above sea level – but they were measured over 100 years ago, and more accurate measurements have since revealed that there are a couple of peaks under 4,000 and at least one 4,000-footer that didn’t make it on the list).  When I say slowly, I mean slowly.  At the rate we’re going, it will take us approximately 90 years to finish the challenge.  But it’s all about the journey, right?  (I’m not kidding.  It is all about the journey.)

Anyway, when we actually sat down and looked at our schedule for the week, we realized that there was only one day that was going to work for a high peak – Thursday.  Monday and Friday we didn’t have all-day babysitters, Tuesday was Peanut’s birthday (and high peaks are a grownups-only affair), and Wednesday looked to be gloomy.  Thursday it was.  We looked over our list of possibilities and decided on Big Slide Mountain.  Relatively short, breathtakingly scenic, and lots of people say it’s their favorite – sounds good to me.

Actually, I was nervous.  Steve has been running consistently all summer, but my time has been consumed by work for months on end.  I wasn’t in as good shape as I was when climbing our first three high peaks (Cascade and Porter, and Giant) and I was just hoping I’d be able to summit.  Anyway – we woke up at the crack of dawn and got ready to hit the trail.  It was in the low 40*s, so I decided to wear yoga pants and a flannel.  Steve went for mesh shorts and a tech t-shirt.  We’d see which one of us was going to regret our life choices.  (Spoiler: it me.)

The first 0.7 miles of the hike was moderate climbing through the woods.  Despite the climb being just that – moderate – and despite knowing that the altitude gain was going to slow down once we gained the ridge line, I complained the entire time.  I was actually kind of relieved when we started hitting some of the technical spots.  It gave me a chance to slow down and catch my breath while I thought about how best to tackle each section.

Whenever I plan an Adirondack high peak hike, I go back to every ADK46r blog I know and read their trail reports, but I’m rarely able to discern from there what to expect.  I finally figured out why that is: when you’re thinking about how to approach a section of steep and probably slippery Adirondack granite, you’re not taking photos.  My phone was in my backpack for most of the hike – until the views started.

Big Slide can be tackled from two directions: over three smaller peaks known as “the Brothers” or via Johns Brook Valley.  A lot of hikers choose to do the hike as a loop – up over the Brothers, down via the Valley.  We decided to stick with the Brothers for both ascent and descent, for a few reasons – it meant less distance overall, the views would be better, and the trail would be familiar so we probably wouldn’t get lost.  And ohhhh, the views.  Once we hit the ridgeline, it was all panorama, all the time.

We spent a lot of time loitering at various overlooks, pouring over guidebooks with our fellow hikers and trying to work out whether we were on one of the Brothers and if so, which one.

(see the big hulking monster about two thirds to the right there? that’s Giant, which we climbed last year)

(a view of the Great Range)

Eventually, even these breathtaking views started to get old, and I began to whine again.  I was a real peach!  If you’re wondering how Steve puts up with me, don’t expect me to explain it to you.  It felt like an eternity before we hit the junction with the Johns Brook Valley trail and saw this sign:

Just 0.3 miles to the summit!  At this point I knew there was no way I was turning back without reaching the peak.  Unfortunately, I also knew (thanks, research!) that the toughest part of the climb lay ahead.  In just a little more than a quarter of a mile, we were going to gain 700 feet of altitude.  Ouch!  My quads hurt just thinking about it.  Also, a good chunk of the altitude gain came via this freak:

Yes, that is a section of rock so steep that they put a Helpful Ladder up for hikers.  So, this is a weird thing about me: while I love heights, and will happily perch on a mountaintop precipice, I am weirdly skittish about exposure.  Steve, meanwhile, hates heights but isn’t bothered by exposure in the slightest.  Together, we make one confident hiker and one basket case.  Anyway, this ladder gave me the willies.  But–

I did it!  Adirondack high peak number four in the books!

The views were pure gorgeousness.  Big Slide’s summit, like Giant’s, is partially wooded – but there was plenty to soak in from the summit ledge.  Steve and I took off our backpacks, plunked down on the granite, and enjoyed a summit snack – some high protein nut and seed mix, Babybel cheese, apricots and mangoes.  We eavesdropped as a local hiker gave some French Canadian visitors the lowdown on which high peaks we were looking at, snapped more pictures, and thought about how lucky we were to have a beautiful day and grandparent babysitters along to watch the kiddos.  And then it was time to head back downhill for dinner and, after, hugs from our babies.

(Giant again!  Can’t believe I stood on top of that bad boy last year.)

If you’re wondering how Big Slide got its name – that’s how.

It was a beautiful, if exhausting, day in the mountains!  We booked it down the trail and took our sweaty, dirt-covered selves straight to Big Slide Brewery to celebrate our achievement with local beers and carbs.  (Steve had a burger, if I remember right, and I had pasta with Impossible sausage.)  The brewery staff didn’t bat an eye when we staggered in.  I think they’re used to seeing people just off the mountain.  They asked where we’d been hiking and seemed genuinely tickled when we said we were celebrating Big Slide at Big Slide.

Another high peak handled!  It’s been a couple of months now, so I’m already forgetting how painful it was and starting to think about the next one – Phelps, maybe?  Or possibly Nye and mighty Street.  Next week – a hike with less altitude but more drama.  Check back!

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After summer was such a bust, I am almost hesitant to make a fall list.  If my favorite season falls flat this year, I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle it.  (Yes, I realize that I am basic.)  But the fact is – we need a fun fall.  We need sunshine, fresh air, and the chance to unplug and reconnect as a family.  The last few months have been stressful in the extreme, and we could really use a break and some joy.  So I’m going to make this list largely as an act of faith that the universe has good things in the works for us.

  • Pick apples at Butler’s Orchard (and maybe some raspberries too?).
  • Hike Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park – moving this one over from the summer list.
  • Roll up my sleeves and do some fall baking with Peanut.
  • Catch up on the 52 Hike Challenge before it gets really cold.
  • Read cozy mysteries – as many as possible.
  • Run the Wonder Woman virtual 5K (and maybe the Alexandria Turkey Trot).
  • Volunteer in Peanut’s classroom.
  • Get back into Barre3.
  • Pumpkin picking, of course!
  • Take the kids trick-or-treating (they already have their costumes!) at Mount Vernon and in the neighborhood again.

That’s ten things!  I think that list looks pretty approachable.  There is some outdoor stuff on there, so hopefully it stops raining one of these days.  But there’s plenty on there that I can do no matter the weather and with even just a little spare time.  I’d love to sneak off for a weekend away, too – maybe to Virginia Beach, or maybe to the mountains – but I’m intentionally not putting it on the list.  If it happens, great.  If not, I’ll live.

What’s on your fall list?

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When we looked at the weather forecast for the week we would be spending in Lake Placid, it looked like it was going to be mostly beautiful.  I had a hard time buying this, because it has rained pretty much constantly all summer in D.C., and I pretty much stopped believing that sunshine happened.  But the weather reports for the ‘dacks all promised that most of the week would be gorgeous, with Wednesday the only gloomy day.  So we decided to spend Wednesday morning at an indoor activity we knew the kids would love: visiting the Wild Center in Tupper Lake.

The Wild Center is part outdoor experience (there is a treetop walk with a gigantic pretend bird’s nest the kids can climb in – we didn’t do that because by the time we had finished the indoor part, the rain had started in earnest and the kids were hangry), part children’s science and nature museum focusing on local environments, and part small aquarium highlighting local species.  We entered the museum in the aquarium-ish part, and the kids were enthralled by the fish and amphibians.  There were even some adorable ducks!

We made it through the fish tanks and into a room with a lot of fun play activities designed to teach kids about environmental conservation – so cool!  Peanut got really into playing a game about healthy river systems, and Nugget found some blue sand to slop everywhere.  But he was over the blue sand much sooner than Peanut was ready to move on from her river game, so Dad hung with her while Nugget and I ended up doubling back and hanging out with the fish some more (which is why you don’t see Peanut in any of these pictures).

Total fascination.  Anyway, we all reunited eventually and headed outside to try to explore the Wild Center grounds before the skies totally opened up.

I loved the beautiful wooden bridge over the wetlands.  You all know I can’t resist a marsh habitat!

They had a beautiful little nature trail through a pretty wildflower garden.  The kids loved running ahead and reporting back on the scenery a few yards down the trail.  I did not count this toward my 52 Hike Challenge, because it literally lasted ten minutes.  Had we made it to the Wild Walk, I probably would have counted that.  But we had barely started exploring the gardens before it began to rain in earnest, as I mentioned above, and the kids were grumpy and complaining about their stomachs.  So we went back to the car, had a snack, and headed back to Lake Placid to let Peanut log some quality time with her birthday presents.

The Wild Center was a perfect kiddo activity for a gloomy morning.  We were able to get some fresh air exploring the gardens, but there was plenty to see indoors.  I loved the focus on local flora, fauna, and indigenous/First Nations cultures, and I think the kids learned a lot.  We’ll be back for sure!

Next week: Steve and I tackle our fourth Adirondack high peak!

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The end of another season is always bittersweet, isn’t it?  They just seem to fly by, faster and faster every year.  I usually struggle with the transition from summer to fall, because I love both seasons, so I never know what to feel.  Sad that summer is ending?  Check.  Excited about all the fall fun ahead?  Check.  I’m a basket case.  But this summer has been so weird – I’m kind of glad it’s on the way out.  We had terrible family sadness, lots of unexpected separations, and rain almost every weekend.  We tried, so hard, to have fun and enjoy the season, but it mostly just sucked.

  • Family vacation season!  Spend a week on Lake Placid – hiking, kayaking, and swimming from sun-up to sun-down.  Check!  We had a wonderful week away in late August with my parents.  We hiked almost every day, took the kayaks out for a romantic paddle, and splashed in Mirror Lake until we shivered.  We celebrated Peanut’s sixth birthday on vacation and just unplugged as much as possible and soaked in time together.

  • Related: climb another high peak (or two).  Check!  Thanks to my parents, who generously babysat the kids from sun-up (literally: we picked Nana up before it was even light out) to bedtime, Steve and I were able to spend a whole day in the mountains together, soaking up the silence and views and notching another high peak – Big Slide Mountain, this time.  Recap coming soon!

  • Read The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.  Check!  I read it on vacation, which seemed appropriate, and really enjoyed this lovely, ruminative book about a young girl and her grandmother and their long summer days spent together.
  • Fill up on sweet summer greens and juicy stone fruits from the farmers’ market.  We never made it to the farmers’ market.
  • Start running again!  Haha, this is funny!
  • Pick blueberries at Butler’s Orchard and bake something yummy with Peanut.  It would’ve had to stop raining.
  • Hike Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park.  Again, would’ve had to stop raining.
  • I don’t know if this’ll happen, but I want it to, so I’m putting it on the list: spend a weekend with Rebecca on Virginia Beach.  Well, Rebecca had only one functioning bedroom and no HVAC all summer, so this didn’t happen.
  • Get my bike tires pumped up, figure out how to hitch up the kids’ trailer, and start taking some family bike rides on the Mount Vernon Trail.  I got my bike tuned in hopes of biking to work, and it has rained every day since.  Literally.  Every.  Day.
  • Kayak Fletcher’s Cove as much as possible, and check out the Ballpark Boathouse too.  I have faith and believe that Fletcher’s Cove and the Ballpark Boathouse both exist, but I haven’t seen them all year.

I can hardly believe it, but that’s the extent of it.  The wet weather this summer really hampered our fun – we never went to the farmers’ market or to the DC boathouses at all; we missed blueberry season; we never got the bikes out; and we didn’t have time for either Shenandoah or Virginia Beach.  The fall is shaping up to be just as wet as the summer, and if it doesn’t stop raining on the weekends soon, I am going to seriously lose my mind.

How was your summer?  I hope you checked more off your list than I did off mine!

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Steve and I definitely each have our strengths when it comes to vacation planning.  He excels at logistics – knowing where we are going to be, how to get there, etc. – and so he’s usually the one who does things like booking plane flights and rental cars, planning driving routes, and all the other boring but necessary tasks.  I prefer (and think I’m good at) the part of planning that has to do with making sure everyone has a good time – picking good lodgings and especially planning fun adventures.  The Adirondacks was a test even for me, though, because there’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to fun and adventures, but not all of those adventures are realistic for a family with small children.  So while we were planning to get out on an adults-only adventure or two, I also had to call upon all of my knowledge of the area and my fun-wrangling skills to find activities that were adventurous and/or scenic enough for the parents, but safe and easy enough for the kids.  As I searched, there were a few trails that came up over and over again, and one was Owls Head Mountain in Keene.

Owls Head is a lovely and charming little mountain, situated right off Route 73 – one of the main arteries in this part of the Adirondack Park – just a short drive outside of Lake Placid.  It’s a short and sweet hike – just over half a mile of moderate-grade, non-technical climbing to the summit, and the views from the peak are breathtaking.  It’s also technically on private land, and a couple of years ago the trail had gotten so popular that the property owners closed it to the public on weekends and holidays – after the hordes of hikers abused the landowners’ generosity by actually parking them into their own homes.  (If that’s not a case for limiting public use of natural resources, I don’t know what is.  What if one of the landowners had a medical emergency and wasn’t able to get to the hospital because they were completely blocked in?)

Fortunately, since we were in town for an extended stay, we had a week’s worth of days to choose from, and on Tuesday morning we headed down to Keene to check out the trail.  It was an absolute delight to hike, as you can see – enough of the Adirondack granite to make things interesting, but not so much that it was beyond Nugget’s abilities.

Little hiker on the trail!

The birthday princess hitched a ride on Daddy for the uphill portion of the hike.  Yes – this climb was our celebration of Peanut’s sixth birthday!

As we neared the summit, there was one steep/technical part of the trail.  Grandad helped Nugget navigate the terrain.  I have to say this for Nugget: he’s your typical rambunctious three-year-old boy, but he does seem to understand when it’s actually important for him to listen carefully and follow directions.  He did a great job climbing the steep terrain with his Grandad’s coaching.

There were a few false summits on the way up, which I never mind in the Adirondacks, because there’s no better opportunity to relax, take a deep breath and snap a few pictures of the gorgeous mountains all around.

Stunning views of the high peaks!

And then, before we knew it, we were at the summit!

Nana and Nugget relaxed and drank in the panoramic mountain views, while I dug through the pack for the trail snacks I’d brought along for the whole family to enjoy: little packets of olives, salt-and-pepper macadamias, delicious dried apricots, Babybel cheese, and brownie bites for the kids.  We all dug in and slurped on our water bottles while soaking in the scenery.

Family picture time!  Summit smiles:

After a good long rest and snack session on the summit, it was time to head down and get on with the rest of our day.  Nugget hopped into the backpack and Peanut put boots – errrr, sandals – on the trail.

Owls Head did not disappoint!  I can see why it’s a popular mountain, but I’m glad the owners are limiting access to the trail – we saw several other hiking groups, and one family rock climbing, and I can’t imagine what it would be like on a popular holiday weekend – probably so intrusive that there’d be no trail left.  Opening it during the week and closing it on weekends and holidays seems like a good compromise to (generously) allow people to continue enjoying the mountain without destroying the trail or seriously impeding the landowners’ movement.  Makes sense to me!  And as for the trail itself, it absolutely lived up to its billing as a perfect family hike.  There was enough climbing and terrain to keep it interesting, but it was approachable enough that my small children were easily able to manage it with attentive adult supervision, and it was short enough that we were able to get a late start and spend considerable time hanging out on the summit, and still be off the mountain in time for lunch.  Wins all around!

Next week: Wild Center Wednesday!

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