Archive for the ‘The Great Outdoors’ Category

Some time ago, Steve and I were debating the eternal question – if we were ever able to buy a second home, would we want a beach house or a lake house?  Steve voted beach.  I could go either way, but I think I’d probably tilt toward lake.  I just love a good lake.  Don’t you?  Anyway, as summer is rolling in, I’ve got to thinking about all of the lakes I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.

Most definitively, the Great Sacandaga Lake, where my parents have their camp.  This lake was a fixture of my childhood – sailing, paddling and windsurfing on its friendly waters, jumping off the dock and the boat deck with my brother and cousins, and lighting bonfires on the beach every Labor Day.

Nearby, lovely Lake George – I have more memories here as a teenager and twentysomething – strolling the village and the docks first with my friend Jessica (once we popped into a junk shop and picked up a bumper sticker that said “Honk if you love Sweden!” and her parents scratched their heads the whole way home about why so many cars were honking – duh, everyone loves Sweden) and in my twenties, with my high school BFF Jenn and our mutual pal Seth (a college classmate of mine and co-worker of Seth’s).  We’ve spent a few evenings kicked back at Seth’s lake house while he grilled up a dinner and the next door neighbors fired their pirate cannon at the tourists on the Minne-ha-ha.

Another childhood fixture – postage-stamp-sized Mirror Lake, around which the village of Lake Placid nestles.  Most of my memories are from winter – skating and sledding on the frozen lake – but I watched my rugrats splash and play in the lake’s clear waters last summer.

Five minutes from Mirror Lake, there’s gleaming Lake Placid.  Once my dad and I launched kayaks near the village and paddled all the way to the back slope of Whiteface Mountain, then popped open a bottle of sauvignon blanc and floated around with plastic wine glasses in hand.  (We should do that again.)

My mom’s childhood memories are all of Lake Minnewaska.  Her stories of visiting a lakeside resort here with her parents – a resort that burned down decades ago – are so Dirty Dancing it makes me want to tango.

Nowadays, my most frequented lake is probably Lake Burke.  We’re usually to be found on the hiking trails circumnavigating the lake, but this summer I’d like to get out on the water.

Although I like my lakes small enough to sail across in a Flying Scot, I did live in the Great Lakes region for three years, not far from the shores of mighty Lake Erie.  The views never got old.

And speaking of Great Lakes views, my habit of treating myself to sunrise runs while on business travel served me well when I watched the day roll in over Lake Michigan while in Chicago for a traditional labor law workshop.

But the greatest lake of all has to be Cayuga Lake, with its waves of blue just downhill from the greatest university in the world – obviously – Cornell.  (Honorable mention to sweet Beebe Lake, with its excellent running trails.)

And I haven’t even mentioned the lakes I’ve been lucky enough to dip a toe into on my travels – like the most famous lake of all, Scotland’s Loch Ness.  (I didn’t see Nessie.)

And postcard-perfect, unspoiled Derwentwater in – where else? – the Lake District.  Just looking at this picture is making me want to go back to Keswick.

Clearly, I love a good lake.  And this summer I’m hoping to add Lake Washington and Lake Union to my list.  Of all the things that are quintessentially summer, a clear lake tops the list, right?


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I’m on record as not loving spring.  Mud, allergies, sheets of rain – meh.  Give me the hazy hot days of summer, thank you very much.  But for better or for worse, spring is one fourth of the seasons of the year, so I do try to make the best of it with all the spring activities (at least, when I can breathe).  I think we did spring right this year – daffodil picking, hiking the bluebell trail, enjoying the blossoms in the neighborhood.  I didn’t check every item off my list (read on) but I did enough that I can say this was not a lost season.  In spring, that’s really all I’m looking for.

  • A MUST: hike the Bluebell Loop Trail at Bull Run during peak week.  Done!  This is indeed a must, and we’ve made a point of getting to Bull Run to hike the bluebell trail every spring for the past three years.  I had a brief moment of panic when the park reported on Facebook that a freak storm had destroyed all the bluebells, but then I realized that it was April 1st, and I could breathe again.
  • Help Peanut and Nugget hunt for eggs in the churchyard after a joyous Easter service.  Hmmm – I’m calling this one-third done.  We did go to church on Easter, and Nugget did hunt for eggs in the courtyard, but I didn’t get to enjoy watching him because I was dragging his sister home as she finished off a massive temper tantrum that started toward the end of the service.  Keeping it real, folks.

  • Host my mother-in-law, my parents and our dear family friends on successive weekends in April.  Done!  Grandma visited Easter weekend (she missed the above excitement, because she was already on her flight back to Florida, lucky duck) and the following weekend my parents and our family friends stopped by for an overnight on their way back north after spending a month on Hilton Head Island (must be nice, amirite).  It was such a treat to see all those beloved faces two weekends in a row.

  • Stock up on the gear that Steve and I will need for our kayaking trip to the San Juan Islands this summer.  My REI dividends just arrived and will be put to good use!  Done!  We set up a date night and booked a gear fitting appointment, and came home laden with shopping bags.  The dividends were indeed put to good use, and I’m hoping that we also get lots of good use out of our purchases over the years.  (Steve came home with the Nemo sleeping bag he’s testing out in the picture above – can’t you tell how happy and contented he is?  It’s stuffed with real down, so wasn’t for me, but I ended up with a cozy Marmot sleeping bag stuffed with recycled synthetic down and am snug as a bug.)

  • Related: get into eco-touring shape with regular gym-going during the week and weekend paddling as soon as the boathouse opens.  Done!  I’ve been hitting the gym a few days a week, running on other days, and we’ve made it out for two mornings of paddling, including a windy day on the Anacostia last weekend – that was a workout indeed.  I don’t know if I’ll ever feel really in eco-touring shape, but I’m doing my best.
  • Read Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Didn’t.  Darn library deadlines.

  • Clear the winter detritus off the back patio, stock up on herbs, veggies and fruit (!!!) and get my container garden started for the season.  Done!  The garden is planted and is producing already – wahoo!  Check in with me throughout the summer for gardening updates.
  • Get my dad’s old camera fixed and cleaned, and start shooting film.  Another one I’m calling one-third done.  I took the camera in for an estimate and it took the store three weeks to get back to me – frustrating – and then the estimate was so expensive I’m now not sure I want to go forward.  I really want to get the camera fixed, and I really want to shoot film, so I might see if they will do a payment plan.  Otherwise, this item may appear again on the fall list.  After all the gear we needed for our upcoming trip, I’m just not in the mood to make another big purchase right now.
  • Listen to the new Decemberists limited edition EP, Traveling On, on my record player by an open window.  Haven’t done this as of press time, but I still might.  My windows are open most nights right now.  So… maybe Saturday night?

  • Take a photography walk with my dSLR through my neighborhood once the blossoms are out.  Three-quarters done?  I didn’t bust out the dSLR, but I did take a photography walk and captured the redbud blossoms – my favorite! – blooming all over Old Town.  Get a load of that purple!  I probably could have gotten better snaps with my actual camera, but the iPhone worked fine.

Not too shabby!  Like I said, not being a major spring lover, I had to motivate myself a little bit to do these things, and obviously not all of them got done.  But I did feel like I had a nice season.  Even at its best, for me, spring is just the opening act – I’m a summer girl at heart.  The mercury is rising every day, and so is my mood, and Litha is still ahead of us – check in with me on Friday for my summer list!

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It’s here!  It’s here!  IT’S HEEEEEEEEEERE!  Pardon me, friends, but I can barely control my glee, because – paddling season is here!  I adore pretty much all paddlesports, but kayaking is my first and most enduring love, and I was starting to develop a twitch after only making it out on the water once last year.  (As old friends may recall, we spent pretty much every moment we could on the hiking trails last year, churning through the 52 Hike Challenge, which was a lot of fun but which definitely got in the way of kayaking.  It also didn’t help that we had such a wet summer last year – most weekend days saw a steady downpour, and when the weather was actually nice enough to get out, the boathouses were closed due to high water from all the rain.)  But as I said when I recapped the #52HikeChallenge, that was not going to be the story of 2019.  As Steve and I prepare for a weeklong ecotouring adventure in the Pacific Northwest, we are taking every chance we can to get those paddling muscles into shape.  And since last weekend was the first weekend the boathouses were open – some of them, anyway – we loaded up our gear and headed out as soon as we could.

We’d planned to put in from our favorite spot – Fletcher’s Cove, just upriver from Georgetown.  But it was closed due to – what else? – high water.  So we hurriedly scrabbled together a Plan B and headed off to check out the Wharf Boathouse instead.  The boathouse staff were duly impressed (or maybe amused) when we rolled up all holding our own paddles and with 3/4 of us sporting our own PFDs.  All we needed were the kayaks and a PFD for Steve.

For the first time, Nugget and I got a double kayak.  Last year, I kept him close to me in a single kayak, but at four, he’s old enough to follow directions and to understand that he needs to do what I say around the water in order to stay safe.

Peanut’s an old hand in the double kayak.  Can you even handle how bored she is?

We put in right at the Wharf and started paddling right away.  I loved the little blue and yellow ferries they had for transporting people across the river (which was very narrow at this particular spot).

That view!  I’ve never seen the Washington Monument from the water before – what a cool perspective.

Waved hello to the big yellow water taxis.  Nugget is the only one in our family who has ridden on one.  (How? you ask.  His nanny took him on an outing to National Harbor.)

There was also sightseeing for Mommy.  This boat is the Sloop John B.  Singing happened.  Around Nassau Town we did roam

We headed to the nearest bridge, which was the boundary point for the Wharf kayak fleet, then turned around and went as far as we could in the opposite direction.  It was a lovely day out, and wonderful to feel the sun – but I have to admit, I couldn’t forget that I was paddling an urban river, the way I do when we’re at Fletcher’s.  I spotted a few pieces of debris in the river and it just felt busier and less pristine than the upriver area where we usually paddle.

Anyway!  We turned around again and headed back to the dock, but not before detouring briefly to check out the D.C. fire and police boats.  Nugget is obsessed with the Alexandria fire boat and we visit it about once a week, so he was delighted to see Fire Boat 201’s big city cousin.  The biggest of the fire boat fleet we saw was the John H. Glenn, Jr., and as we waved and turned our bow away we had NO IDEA how soon we would see that fire boat again – but the very next day, as we were walking the waterfront trail down in Alexandria, the John H. Glenn, Jr. came puffing along up the river, passing within 20 feet of our beloved Fire Boat 201 with streams of water spouting from every hose.  We were pretty sure it was some kind of a challenge.  Reports that we started snapping our fingers like the Jets and the Sharks are not exaggerated.

Heading back to the dock, checking out that view one more time.

And there we are – back to shore.  It was a short hour of kayaking, but felt so good to shake the dust off and be back out on the water.

The kids were decently good – good enough, at least, to earn a nice long stomp ‘n splash session in the fountain right by the boathouse.  Nugget enjoyed using his paddle to redirect the water sprays at the adults.

All in all, a successful first time out on the river, with many more to come!

Pssst – if you’re curious about our equipment:

  • Me: Werner Camano paddle, Stohlquist Flo PFD.
  • Steve: Werner Camano paddle, rented PFD.
  • Peanut: O’Brien kids PFD, youth paddle purchased on Amazon and no longer available.
  • Nugget: Speedo toddler PFD, youth paddle purchased on Amazon and no longer available.

Now back to daydreaming about the next paddle…

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Every Mother’s Day for the past three years, we have hit the trails at my favorite Virginia state park – Mason Neck – for a celebratory hike.  And for the past two years now, we have been surprised to find that our park, which is usually fairly quiet, is noisy with the sounds of kids laughing and owls hooting – it’s the annual Raptor Festival!  This year – once again – we didn’t plan for it, but were jazzed to find the festival in full swing as we arrived.  Nugget enjoyed greeting all of the characters – a bald eagle, an owl, and a fox park ranger – as we walked by.  (Peanut did not.)

First stop was the hiking trail, of course.  We were here for a hike and we were not leaving without it, no matter what else was going on.

Hello to the turtle pond!  The turtles were sunning themselves on logs, soaking up the warm late spring light.  Steve and I eyed the kayaks and discussed paddling out onto Belmont Bay next time we come – when it’s not so busy.

The hike was curtailed by a cloud of buzzing bees, but we got a good stretch of the legs and some lovely scenery before turning back.  Neither of the kids were feeling it, anyway.  There was way too much excitement and too many fun things to do – the trails were not enticing today.

First up: raptor talk #1.  We met a barred owl, a great horned owl, and a teeeeeeeeeny tiny screech owl.  Peanut was in bird heaven.  (New friends: she’s obsessed with birds of prey.)

We did some fishing.  I managed to get away without taking any free swag home, and Peanut scared several older boys away from the pool.

There were horseback rides.  Nugget spotted the horses from all the way over on the playground and begged for a ride.  Peanut wasn’t into the idea at all, but as soon as she saw her brother up on “Mickey,” looking for all the world like a natural…

Saw that coming.  They both had a fantastic time.

We treated ourselves to egg sandwiches for lunch, and then it was time for raptor talk #2.

Seriously, why are screech owls so stinking cute?

It was a busy, wild morning, but I had so much fun.  There’s nothing I love better than being outdoors, unless it’s doing fun things for the kiddos.  When you get to combine both – it’s a clear win.

Happy Mother’s Day, again, to all of my friends!  I hope you had a wonderful time celebrating with the moms in your life!

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Somewhere around November of 2017, I realized that my Instagram friend Heidi had been methodically working her way through a challenge to hike 52 times in a year.  I thought that was pretty hardcore and I was duly impressed.  A little digging revealed that I could sign up to do the challenge myself and, well, I have no self-control when it comes to things like that.  I few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse later, I was officially a 52 Hike Challenger for 2018.

I was already behind by the time I got started, thanks to several weeks of face-shatteringly cold weather that saw us hunkered down inside, not hitting the trails.  (It was so cold that taking out the garbage was like a Polar expedition.)  We finally made it out onto the first trail of the year three weeks into 2018, and we started with Theodore Roosevelt Island, which seemed appropriate.

Over the course of the year, we did mostly hiked together as a family.  We did everything from short, easy trails (like the Story of the Forest Trail in Shenandoah National Park)…

To our fourth Adirondack high peak – Big Slide.

We chased away sadness on the trail.

Hiked with friends of the human and canine variety.

Shared our favorite places with family.

Summited an Adirondack mountain as a family.

And wandered through a glory of Virginia bluebells.

At final count, I think I did about forty-nine of the fifty-two hikes with the kiddos.  (Steve and I made Big Slide a day date, and I hiked Belle Isle and Section C of the Billy Goat Trail alone.)  Hiking with kids is a different experience – think less distance, more logistics.  We had to make sure we had a plan for carrying them if they lost their momentum mid-hike, that we were stocked with snacks, and that we were prepared for any weather.  Kids won’t tough it out the way adults will if they’re hungry or cold, and they can’t cover the same sorts of distances or elevation change – that’s just common sense.  But hiking with them was so rewarding, all the same.

My littles have grown up on the trails, so they’re pros – as kids go.  And it’s totally worth it to impart the lessons of perseverance, teamwork, and respect for the Earth; I don’t think there’s any better way to teach those things than to spend time in nature – a lot of time, and regularly as part of the family routine.  They definitely have their moments, and they are most certainly not always good.  But they’re pretty solid hikers.

The downside to the 52 Hike Challenge?  I had almost no time to do anything else.  Forget Saturday mornings wandering the farmers’ markets, forget ice skating on a winter’s afternoon, and definitely forget kayaking.  I only made it out for one paddle all year long.  (That’s not going to be the story of 2019.)  I loved spending so much time on the hiking trails in 2018, but as the year wore on I started to grow more frustrated that I couldn’t do anything else because I would fall behind on the challenge.  Especially after a summer of not hiking as much as anticipated (partly due to bad weather, and partly to a family tragedy that completely changed the dynamic of the summer) I had no margin at all with the challenge.  A hiking vacation got me almost back on course over the summer, and a few weekends of back-to-back hikes helped, too.  I did end up hitting #hike51 with a few weeks to spare, and was able to plan a special hike to celebrate #hike52.

But, still – it did feel like I couldn’t do anything else for most of the year.  I have limited time for adventuring, and while I love hiking and want trail time to be a part of every month, I’d like a more varied diet of family fun and activity.  I’d like to be able to go out for a run, train for a race, or do things like cross-country ski in the winter and paddle in the summer without worrying that choosing those activities instead of a hike is going to put me behind on a goal.  So consistent with my no-resolutions 2019, I’m not going to take on any specific challenges this year.  I’m going to take my adventures as they come, and enjoy them, without worrying about goals or checklists or calendars.

That said, I couldn’t be happier that I did do the #52HikeChallenge.  It was a fun and exciting goal to work towards all year, and I loved the built-in motivation to find new trails to explore (because who wants to hike in the same park every week for an entire year?).  It took me to trails in five different states (Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts and New York) and delivered fresh air, quality time with family and friends, and lots of great exercise.  And I loved every second.

Thanks for a memorable year on the trail, #52HikeChallenge!

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Here we go – the finish line!  For a while there, it looked like this challenge was going to come down to the wire – thanks to so many rainy, gross weekends earlier in the year.  But as it turned out, I had time to spare and even got to plan a really special final hike – read on.

Hike 41: Story of the Forest Trail, Shenandoah National Park (Luray, Virginia), October 13, 2018 – Having driven almost two hours to get to the park, we wanted to squeeze in as much trail time as we could, so after hiking Big Meadows, we hit another trail.  This was a wooded hike that passed over a lovely stream with a perfect Poohsticks bridge.

Hike 42: Fletcher’s Cove, C&O Canal National Historical Park (Washington, DC), October 14, 2018 – I was looking for a hike in the city, because I had an errand to run downtown, and so we decided to check out the network of trails around Fletcher’s Cove, where we usually go to kayak.  The trail we found was all the way down on the bank of the river, and we had water views the entire time – such a treat!

Hike 43: Rock Creek Park (Washington, DC), October 21, 2018 – Two weekends in a row, two hikes in the District – who even are we?  We used to hike the central portion of Rock Creek Park pretty regularly, but it had been a long time since we’d been there.  I’m still in total disbelief that such a wild and peaceful oasis exists in the middle of the nation’s capital.

Hike 44: Rust Nature Preserve (Leesburg, Virginia), October 28, 2018 – How was it that we didn’t know about the nature preserve and sanctuary for Virginia’s native birds of prey before this?  Peanut is obsessed with all predators (she’s a surprisingly bloodthirsty child, who knew?) and especially with raptors – falcons, eagles, kestrels… We loved this meadow hike and we saw a few birds of prey circling the skies above us – too high up to identify, but it was cool to know that they were there.

Hike 45: Huntley Meadows Park (Alexandria, Virginia), November 4, 2018 – The colors finally burst into glory!  Between the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows and the gorgeous birds swooping all around, hike 45 was one for the ages.

Hike 46: Claude Moore Colonial Farm (McLean, Virginia), November 7, 2018 – I’d hoped to get a little further afield on my three days of funemployment between jobs, but it mostly rained.  There was a break in the clouds on my final day, but I’d already committed to chaperoning the class field trip to a local colonial farm (which turned out a really weird day, story for another time).  So you can imagine my delight when a hike on wooded trails around the farm was part of the day’s activities!  It wasn’t exactly restful – herding fourteen kindergartners is stressful, it turns out – but it was a lot of fun.

Hike 47: Billy Goat Trail, Section C (Potomac, Maryland), November 7, 2018 – Same day, after dropping the kids back at school, I drove over the border into Maryland to try to tackle the Billy Goat Trail.  The more famous sections – A and B – were closed due to flooding, but I had a lovely walk with just a leetle bit of scrambling on Section C.  Considering it was a Wednesday afternoon, and most of the world was at work, I felt lucky indeed.

Hike 48: Winkler Botanical Preserve (Alexandria, Virginia), November 10, 2018 – This local gem has been one of my favorite discoveries of the year!  We wandered right down to the pond and meandered along the shoreline, and I picked up some trash.

Hike 49: Widewater State Park (Widewater, Virginia), November 18, 2018 – A hike for the birthday boy!  We love to celebrate on the trail and Steve decided to use his birthday hike credits to check out the newest Virginia state park – as in, Governor Northam had just cut the ribbon a week before.  It was a beautiful, serene spot and we can’t wait to go back.

Hike 50: Great Falls National Park (Great Falls, Virginia), November 23, 2018A Black Friday hike!  We burned off some of the mashed potatoes (so good, though) and showed my parents around Great Falls, a park we love but had randomly never taken them to see – on a very cold morning.

Hike 51: Lake Accotink (Fairfax, Virginia), November 25, 2018 – Did the penultimate hike at a pretty local park!  The kids entertained everyone on the trail with some rousing song and dance routines.

Hike 52: Saratoga National Historical Park (Saratoga Springs, New York), December 24, 2018 – I wanted to save the final hike of the challenge for something extra special, and this trail through a rolling meadow, with mountain views all around – and on Christmas Eve, no less – was just what I wanted.  What a way to finish out a year of hiking!

And there it is – the END of the road!  What an incredible journey it was.  I’ll have more thoughts coming soon about the 52 Hike Challenge, the lessons I learned on the trail, and my favorite memories from a year of hiking.  It was a beautiful way to spend 2018.

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I’m writing this post while looking out the window at several inches of snow piled up on my back patio – brrrrr.  It seems like months ago that I flew down to Miami for three days, but it’s only been about two weeks.  It was a business trip, and most of my time was spent working in a warehouse conference room (but I could see palm trees out the window!) but I did manage to squeeze in one bit of fun while I was there, sneaking out for a sunrise beach run on my last morning.  Getting in a run through the tourist hot spots is one of my favorite things to do while traveling on business, and I promised myself that if I could make the sunrise run happen on this busy trip, I would.  It meant a scramble to get to work on time, but it was worth it.

There are so many great running destinations in Miami, and lots of fabulous views, but I really wanted to run right along the beach.  So I jumped in an Uber and asked my driver to take me to South Pointe Park.  I timed it perfectly, because the sun was just starting to come up over the water when I arrived.

City views!

That’s what I’m talking about…

I made it down to the water and ran in the sand, right where the early morning waves were rolling up to meet the shore, for a little while.

I made this yellow and blue lifeguard station my goal, and I got there right as the sunrise was beginning to get really spectacular.  I stood down at the water line and watched the day roll in.

Just a little at first.


Utterly breathtaking!  I watched the seabirds swooping back and forth over the water and envied their freedom.

Eventually, it was time to turn back – I couldn’t be late to the “office.”  But I knew I’d regret not putting my toes in the water, so I took off my running shoes and socks and waded in.  The waves rolled in and out and soaked the hems of my capris with warm salt water, and it was January 4th, and life was pretty darn good.

The spell had to break eventually – it was a golden hour, but it couldn’t last forever.  I ran back along the beach (barefoot!) then wiped the sand off my feet and ran a little bit more along the South Pointe pier, before jumping in an Uber back to the hotel.

One happy sunrise runner!

Do you like to squeeze in sightseeing runs to sweeten up your business trips?

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